Visitor attachment to dolphins during an interaction programme, are there implications to dolphin behaviour?

Welsh, T. ORCID: 0000-0001-9246-3405 and Ward, S. ORCID: 0000-0002-5857-1071, 2021. Visitor attachment to dolphins during an interaction programme, are there implications to dolphin behaviour? Zoo Biology, 40 (6), pp. 551-562. ISSN 0733-3188

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Millions of people visit zoos and aquariums globally each year, with a smaller number choosing to participate in animal interaction programmes which allows visitors closer contact with individual animals. These are reportedly having mixed effects in increasing conservation-related behaviours. Human-animal interactions (HAIs) during these programmes are generally positive experiences for the human participants, however are there behavioural implications for the animals involved? The Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) is the most widely used cetacean for dolphin interactions, known as “swim with dolphin” (SWD) programmes. This study investigated visitor attachment to the dolphins they interacted with, whilst assessing behavioural implications of the dolphins. 41 visitors to a Spanish dolphinarium, who participated in a SWD were surveyed using a modified version of the Lexington Attachment to Pets Scale (LAPS). Alongside this, 15-minute continuous focal samples monitored three female dolphins (D1, D2 and D3) aged 22 - 40, split into pre (n=96), during (n=96) and post (n=96) SWD. 80% of visitors reported a sense of attachment to the dolphin they interacted with. An exploratory factor analysis extracted three factors from the survey, these were “relationships”, “emotional attachment” and “non-attachment”. A Friedmans Two-Way ANOVA produced significant results for some behaviour categories for each individual, including locomotory (D1: F2=9.556, p < 0.01), rest (D2: F2 =14, p < 0.01, D3: F2=10.889, p < 0.01) and individual play (D1: F2=11.677, p < 0.01 D2: F2=6.353, p < 0.05) however, pairwise comparison showed no differences pre-post SWD. In this context it can be implied that participating in the SWD was neither enriching nor aversive for the individual animals, although due to the small sample size further research is required. As visitors reported a sense of attachment post HAI, this can have applications in improving conservation education during SWD. This study has provided scope for further research into methods that facilities can use to utilise the emotional attachment developed to individual animals to facilitate learning about conservation issues for example.

Item Type: Journal article
Publication Title: Zoo Biology
Creators: Welsh, T. and Ward, S.
Publisher: Wiley
Date: 9 December 2021
Volume: 40
Number: 6
ISSN: 0733-3188
Rights: This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Welsh, T., & Ward, S. (2021). Visitor attachment to dolphins during an interaction programme, are there implications to dolphin behaviour? Zoo Biology, 40(6), 551-562, which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions. This article may not be enhanced, enriched or otherwise transformed into a derivative work, without express permission from Wiley or by statutory rights under applicable legislation. Copyright notices must not be removed, obscured or modified. The article must be linked to Wiley’s version of record on Wiley Online Library and any embedding, framing or otherwise making available the article or pages thereof by third parties from platforms, services and websites other than Wiley Online Library must be prohibited.
Divisions: Schools > School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences
Record created by: Laura Ward
Date Added: 02 Jun 2021 14:00
Last Modified: 12 Jul 2022 03:00

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