A team of scientists in France have measured ‘happiness’ in dolphins for the first time. The researchers conducted this study to examine captivity from the animals’ perspective. Their aim was to find out the activities that the dolphins looked forward to most. The study was conducted at a marine park named Parc Asterix near Paris. It is a theme park with one of France’s largest dolphinariums.
The first-of-its-kind project revealed that the dolphins were happiest when interacting with a familiar human such as the trainer. The study, published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science, was part of a three-year project to measure dolphin welfare in a captive setting.
Lead researcher Dr. Isabella Clegg and her colleagues at the University of Paris designed a number of experiments to decode dolphin behaviour in captivity. They wanted to establish a correlation between the mammals’ physical postures and their feelings.
How did the experiment measure ‘happiness’ in dolphins?
Dr. Clegg and her team tested three main activities: the arrival of a trainer near the pool, the addition of toys to the pool and leaving the dolphins on their own.
Interestingly, the researchers discovered that the animals were most active when a trainer approached them. In anticipation of the trainer’s arrival, the dolphins spent more time near the edge of the pool. They also peer above the surface of the pool and lookws in the direction from which the trainer usually approaches them. This activity is known as “spy hooping”.
“We’ve seen this same thing in other zoo animals and in farm animals,” said Dr Clegg, adding: “Better human-animal bonds equals better welfare.”
However, some other researchers have expressed contradictory views as well. For instance, Dr. Sussane Schultz from the University of Manchester remarked that the study didn’t indicate “if a dolphin in captivity is happier than it would be if it was in the wild”. Dr. Schultz has studies the behaviour of various wild marine animals.