On National Dolphin Day, Learn How the Texas State Aquarium Is Advancing Dolphin Conservation and Research

April 14, 2018

CORPUS CHRISTI, TX – Dolphins Liko, Schooner, Kai, and Shadow are not just the biggest stars of the Texas State Aquarium, they’re now an important part of a national research project that will make major contributions towards dolphin care and conservation across the world. On April 14, National Dolphin Day, the Texas State Aquarium shared some additional details on this groundbreaking study and how it will advance the Aquarium’s animal conservation and wellness goals.

Throughout 2018, the Aquarium’s male bottlenose dolphins have allowed visiting scientists and animal care staff at the aquarium to collect a trove of data which will increase the understanding of cetaceans in professional care. Most recently, staff at the Aquarium collected blood from dolphins which will be later evaluated for hormones, lipids, and other indicators of health and welfare. Last month, the dolphins also received radiographs to gain more information about their overall health. Since March, the dolphins have also been intermittently wearing bio-logging devices that measure activity and movement through devices called Digital Acoustic Recording Tags (DTAG) that are temporarily attached to the dolphins’ bodies. Participation in all these studies in largely voluntary, and the dolphins are able remove their DTAGs whenever they want. Just like a fitness tracker provides details on a human’s daily exercise, researchers will be able to look at a DTAG’s data to see a complete picture of the dolphin’s day-to-day activity.

The staff at Dolphin Bay have always invested significant resources into ensuring Shadow, Kai, Liko, and Schooner are kept physically and mentally healthy, including keeping their exhibit habitat clean, giving the animals are given a healthy diet and top-notch medical care, and providing enrichment – devices and activities designed to keep the dolphins active in body and mind. Through the cetacean welfare study, the Aquarium hopes to collect even more information on how to provide their dolphins with the best possible welfare while assisting other institutions with their own cetacean care.

The Aquarium’s research is part of a multi-institutional study of how physical habitat, environmental enrichment, and animal training impact the welfare of cetaceans is occurring around the world. Data collection is taking place across 44 accredited facilities in seven countries where scientists will gather data regarding approximately 290 common and Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins, 20 beluga whales, and eight Pacific white-sided dolphins. This study seeks to acquire robust and objective data that can help inform future facility design, enrichment, and training programs for cetaceans in protective care.

Data collection will take place in two timeframes – July/August of 2018 and January/February of 2019. Then, data analysis will be conducted by the six principal investigators and additional project staff over the following two years, and research will likely be published in 2020.

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