News Release
 
Contact: Sondra Katzen, Public Relations, 708.688.8351, sondra.katzen@czs.org
 
August 30 2021
 
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
 

NOTE: Photos available at end of press release.
 
 
Chicago Zoological Society Shares Results of
Largest-ever Cetacean Welfare Study
Scientists and animal care staff at 43 organizations across seven countries collected and shared data, resulting in increased understanding of health and welfare of dolphins and whales in professional care
 

Brookfield, Ill. — Today, the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE published findings from the Cetacean Welfare Study, the largest-ever groundbreaking, multi-institutional study of how physical habitat, environmental enrichment, and animal training impact the welfare of cetaceans in zoos and aquariums worldwide. The collection of nine manuscripts highlight tools and findings that can be utilized for the continuous improvement of the care and welfare of cetaceans in professional care.
 
The Chicago Zoological Society (CZS), which manages Brookfield Zoo, was the lead institution on this study along with the University of California – Irvine and the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine. From Chicago to Singapore, data were collected across 46 cetacean habitats at 43 accredited facilities in seven countries. Over the course of the data collection phase of the study, which took place in 2018 and 2019, scientists gathered information regarding 216 common and Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins, 13 beluga whales, and eight Pacific white-sided dolphins.
 
“This study exemplifies the collective commitment and effort of accredited zoos and aquariums to continuously improve animal welfare, the number one priority at each of our organizations,” said Lance Miller, Ph.D., vice president of conservation science and animal welfare research for CZS and one of the study’s principal investigators. “The findings from this study provide us with new, science-based best practices and provides ways to approach our cetacean programming.” 
 
Using cutting-edge technology, the study explored cetacean welfare through various lenses, including habitat characteristics, training programs, environmental factors, and demographics like age and sex. An important outcome of the work was a whole new set of research tools, including the creation of an iOS app, ZooPhysioTrak—a comprehensive database of health and welfare biomarkers from all of the participating institutions that provides veterinarians and cetacean care managers with standard health reference intervals and welfare indicators to compare their animals’ test results (from blood and fecal samples). This resource places important health and welfare information directly into the hands of cetacean care givers and managers like never before. For example, at Brookfield Zoo, veterinarians and marine mammal staff can compare one of Brookfield Zoo’s dolphins, like 7-year-old Merlin’s blood values and hormone metabolite levels, to those of other healthy dolphins at zoos and aquariums around the world.
 
"Thirty-four Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums member facilities from all over the world eagerly participated in this groundbreaking study in order to contribute to an increased understanding of cetacean welfare,” said Kathleen Dezio, AMMPA president and CEO. "We commend Dr. Lance Miller and his colleagues on this cutting-edge research that will empower zoo and aquarium professionals with important new tools and insights to help them continue to enhance the welfare of the inspiring animals in their care."
 
Additionally, findings suggest the environmental enrichment programs and social management of bottlenose dolphins are more closely related to behaviors likely indicative of positive welfare than habitat characteristics. This suggests that welfare is less related to the size of the animals’ habitat, and more related to how the mammals are cognitively challenged through their environment enrichment and appropriate social management. Coming out of the study, Brookfield Zoo implemented additional protocols to its already existing and robust enrichment program to continually grow and enhance it based on findings from this study. Examples include having a member of the marine mammal care team assigned to provide the dolphins multiple enrichment activities focused on innovation throughout the day to increase the frequency of enriching and challenging opportunities. This could include engaging the dolphins in a variety of foraging exercises, cognitive puzzles, play behaviors, or introducing a novel item.
 
“Association of Zoos and Aquariums members are known for providing the best care and welfare possible for their animals. This groundbreaking study provides new insights into how our members can better care for cetaceans. The important science-backed findings will also help enhance our rigorous accreditation standards related to cetaceans,” said Dan Ashe, president and CEO of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
 
These findings, and others from the study, will be used to enhance cetacean care and welfare best practices, and will advise future animal welfare research, which advances the goal of zoos and aquariums everywhere to continuously improve knowledge and welfare assessment tools for species under professional care.
 
“This study shows that progressive zoos and aquariums are able to provide exemplary care for cetaceans and are committed to continuously improving using the latest science, as well as being a step forward for the welfare and ultimately conservation of a number of cetacean species,” said Dr. Martín Zordan, chief executive officer of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums. "This work is especially significant when we consider that ex situ conservation has been recognized as an important tool for conserving several cetaceans species as stated in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) 2020 report Ex situ options for cetacean conservation.”
 
In addition to Dr. Miller, principal investigators also include Lisa Lauderdale, Ph.D., animal welfare scientist in the Animal Welfare Research Department at the Chicago Zoological Society; Jill Mellen, Ph.D.; Michael Walsh, DVM, clinical associate professor at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine; and Douglas Granger, Ph.D., professor and director of the Institute for Interdisciplinary Salivary Bioscience Research at the University of California, Irvine. The collection of manuscripts can be viewed at: https://collections.plos.org/collection/cetacean-welfare/.
 
Funding for this project was provided through a National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), Grant #MG-30-17-0006-17, with additional support from partner facilities.

 
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Photo Captions--credit Jim Schulz/Chicago Zoological Society
0710: Beth Miller, a senior animal care specialist for the Chicago Zoological Society, engages Merlin, one of the bottlenose dolphins at Brookfield Zoo, during a care session.
 
2216: Laurene Posego, an assistant animal care specialist for the Chicago Zoological Society, asks Allie, a bottlenose dolphin at Brookfield Zoo, to slide up on a scale to weigh her as part of the animals’ routine health care program.
 
2277: Spree, a 19-year-old bottlenose dolphin at Brookfield Zoo, interacts with an enrichment item resembling an octopus. The Cetacean Welfare Study findings suggest that new enrichment items are related to the dolphins’ positive social interactions.
 
2823: Merlin, a 7-year-old bottlenose dolphin at Brookfield Zoo, opens the end of a puzzle feeder to discover a fish inside. This is just one of many enrichment items that provide a stimulating opportunity for the dolphins.
 
2944: A bottlenose dolphin at Brookfield Zoo interacting with an artificial kelp plant. The animals are often engaged in swimming around their habitat with the kelp draped over their flippers and fins.
 
4108: Mark Gonka and Beth Miller, animal care specialists for the Chicago Zoological Society, practice a blood draw simulation with one of Brookfield Zoo’s bottlenose dolphins. There were 359 blood samples collected and analyzed by researchers for the Cetacean Welfare Study.
 
4119: Beth Miller, a senior animal care specialist for the Chicago Zoological Society, examines the mouth of Tapeko, one of the bottlenose dolphins at Brookfield Zoo. The animals voluntarily participate in their own routine health care.
 
4174: Brookfield Zoo’s bottlenose dolphins receive a variety of environmental enrichment.
 
5218: Rita Stacey, curator a marine mammals for the Chicago Zoological Society, uses ZooPhysioTrak, a new tool to aid cetacean managers in checking health and welfare biomarkers of animals in their care against the study’s healthy population. This application can be used to determine if an individual animal’s values are currently within the range of healthy normal values.

5227: An important outcome of the Cetacean Welfare Study was the creation of an iOS app, ZooPhysioTrak—a comprehensive database of health and welfare biomarkers. The information provides veterinarians and cetacean care managers with common and novel health and welfare reference intervals and values to compare their animals’ test results (from blood and fecal samples) against the study’s healthy population.
 
5639: Heather Downing, an animal care specialist for the Chicago Zoological Society, secures a bio-logging device—Mtag—on a bottlenose dolphin at Brookfield Zoo. The device tracks the animal’s movement and activity to determine how it is using its environment. Researchers recorded 1,882 hours of MTag data for the Cetacean Welfare Study.
 
5713: Merlin, a 7-year-old bottlenose dolphin at Brookfield Zoo, was one of 216 common and Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins who wore a bio-logging device or MTag during the Cetacean Welfare Study’s data collection period.

About the Chicago Zoological Society
The mission of the Chicago Zoological Society is to inspire conservation leadership by engaging people and communities with wildlife and nature. The Chicago Zoological Society is a private nonprofit organization that operates Brookfield Zoo on land owned by the Forest Preserves of Cook County. The Society is known throughout the world for its international role in animal population management and wildlife conservation. Its Center for the Science of Animal Care and Welfare is at the forefront of animal care that strives to discover and implement innovative approaches to zoo animal management. Brookfield Zoo is the first zoo in the world to be awarded the Humane Certified™ certification mark for the care and welfare of its animals, meeting American Humane Association’s rigorous certification standards. The zoo is also accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums, and the International Marine Animal Trainers’ Association. The zoo is located at 8400 31st Street in Brookfield, Illinois, between the Stevenson (I-55) and Eisenhower (I-290) expressways and also is accessible via the Tri-State Tollway (I-294), Metra commuter line, and CTA and PACE bus service. For further information, visit CZS.org.
 
About IMLS
The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation's libraries and museums. We advance, support, and empower America’s museums, libraries, and related organizations through grantmaking, research, and policy development. Our vision is a nation where museums and libraries work together to transform the lives of individuals and communities. To learn more, visit www.imls.gov and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
 
 
 
 

MEDIA CONTACT:

Sondra Katzen
Media Relations Manager
Office: 708-688-8351
Cell Phone: 708-903-2071
E-mail: Sondra.Katzen@CZS.org

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