Marine mammal cognition and captive care: A proposal for cognitive enrichment in zoos and aquariums
Marine mammals, particularly cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) and pinnipeds (seals, sea lions and walruses) are popular in zoos and aquariums worldwide. Bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions have also been popular study species in animal cognition research since the 1950s, and many dolphin cognitive skills are on par with great apes. This paper proposes that ‘cognitive challenges’ can enhance the wellbeing of marine mammals, in line with previous studies on farm animals and great apes. While most captive marine mammals are trained and this challenges their social-cognitive skills to a moderate or high level, their physical-cognitive skills are not being challenged to a high level by floating ‘toys’ in the pool. This paper suggests that tasks originally developed to test the limits of dolphin and sea lion cognitive skill could be modified and implemented as ‘cognitive enrichment’ in zoos and aquariums. To be enriching, cognitive challenges should be relevant, motivating, controllable, and possible to master.
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