Environmental Enrichment

Posted on: May 16, 2016

Environmental enrichment in zoological facilities is considered essential to animal welfare (e.g., Clegg, Borger-Turner, & Eskelinen, 2015) and involves the addition of supplemental stimuli to animals’ environments that enhances biological, physiological, and psychological welfare (e.g., Kuczaj, Lacinak, & Turner, 1998; Shepherdson, Mellen, & Hutchins, 1998). While enrichment plans can be dynamic, empirical evidence is lacking on the effectiveness and individual preferences of Environmental Enrichment Devices (EED) and how they are applied. Dolphins Plus’ staff scientists recorded the participation of the dolphins during enrichment sessions over the course of 17 – months. The dolphins were randomly exposed to enrichment categories: Object, Ingestible, Human Interaction, and combinations of these three types (e.g., Human Interaction and Object). Several differences were noted between individuals, ages, and sexes. Sessions involving Humans and/or Ingestible items resulted in a significantly higher mean proportion of participation. Sub-adult and adult males were significantly more likely to participate in enrichment sessions, as well as engage in Human Interaction/Object sessions. Calves participated significantly more than adults or sub-adults across all enrichment classes with no noted differences between males and females.  These data can serve as a tool to better understand the intricacies of bottlenose dolphin responses to enrichment in an effort to develop strategic enrichment plans with the goal of improving animal well-being and welfare.  For more information on this study, please look for the publication in Animal Behavior and Cognition, or email our staff scientists at education@dolphinsplus.com.



Clegg, I. L. K., Borger-Turner, J. L., & Eskelinen, H. C. (2015). C-Well: The development of a welfare assessment index for captive bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). Animal Welfare24 (3), 267-282

Eskelinen, H.C., Winship, K.A., Borger-Turner, J.L. (2015). Sex, Age and individual Differences in Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in Response to Environmental Enrichment. Animal Behavior and Cognition, 2(3): 241- 253.

Kuczaj, S., Lacinak, C. T., & Turner, T. (1998). Environmental enrichment for marine mammals at Sea World. In D. J. Shepherdson, J. D., Mellen, & J. D., Hutchins, M. (Eds.), Second nature: Environmental enrichment for captive animals (pp. 314–328). Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Shepherdson, D.J., Mellen, J.D., & Hutchins, M. (1998). Second nature: Environmental enrichment for captive animals. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.