Advances in Marine Mammal Cognition and Cognitive Welfare

A special issue of Animals (ISSN 2076-2615). This special issue belongs to the section "Animal Welfare".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (15 February 2024) | Viewed by 15773

Special Issue Editors


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Guest Editor
Dolphin Research Center, Grassy Key, FL, USA
Interests: animal cognition; animal communication; cognitive welfare; cetaceans

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Co-Guest Editor
Department of Life Sciences, Texas A&M University-San Antonio, San Antonio, TX, USA
Interests: cognition; social behavior; development in marine mammals

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Marine mammals, perhaps especially dolphins and sea lions, have been among the most popular animals in zoos and aquariums for several decades. During that same time period, a number of studies have suggested that at least some of these species possess complex cognitive and communicative abilities. Historically, discussions and regulations regarding marine mammal welfare have focused primarily on the physical needs of these animals (e.g., nutrition, health, space, noise, etc.). In order to maximize their welfare in both managed care and wild settings, however, it is also important to consider their cognitive needs. Because species differ in the ways in which they take in, process, and act on information, strategies and practices for enhancing cognitive welfare will ideally be informed by an understanding of the perceptual, cognitive, and behavioral abilities of each species.

To that end, the goal of this Special Issue is to bring together a body of research on the cognition and cognitive welfare of marine mammals. We welcome original research articles and reviews that speak to issues regarding the cognitive abilities and/or cognitive well-being of any marine mammal species. Relevant topics include (but are not limited to): specific cognitive capacities (e.g., reasoning, problem solving, imitation, cooperation), cognitive challenges, choice and control, cognitive enrichment, positive reinforcement training, and reviews of the cognition of individual species (especially understudied species).

We look forward to receiving your contributions.

Dr. Kelly Jaakkola
Dr. Malin Lilley
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All submissions that pass pre-check are peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Animals is an international peer-reviewed open access semimonthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 2400 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • animal cognition
  • animal welfare
  • cognitive enrichment
  • marine mammals
  • cetaceans
  • pinnipeds
  • sirenians

Published Papers (8 papers)

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Research

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12 pages, 1324 KiB  
Article
Health and Welfare Benefits of Computerized Cognitive Enrichment in California Sea Lions (Zalophus californianus) at the US Navy Marine Mammal Program
by Kelley Winship, Abby McClain, Amber Ramos, Jennifer Dunham and Mark Xitco, Jr.
Animals 2024, 14(7), 1120; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani14071120 - 6 Apr 2024
Viewed by 1800
Abstract
Cognitive enrichment is becoming more prevalent in professional marine mammal facilities. Research with dolphins has suggested that such enrichment provides more welfare benefits than enrichment that does not incorporate cognitive challenge. However, there is little research supporting the use of cognitive enrichment as [...] Read more.
Cognitive enrichment is becoming more prevalent in professional marine mammal facilities. Research with dolphins has suggested that such enrichment provides more welfare benefits than enrichment that does not incorporate cognitive challenge. However, there is little research supporting the use of cognitive enrichment as a means to improve the welfare of sea lions. Recently, a novel form of technological cognitive enrichment, the Enclosure Video Enrichment (EVE) system, was introduced to a population of California sea lions at the US Navy’s Marine Mammal Program as a means to enhance welfare. Two of the initial focal animals introduced to EVE were selected based on their health history and the possible benefits of cognitive enrichment in improving health measures. To evaluate this, information regarding the animals’ consumption of their offered diet was compared to other animals in the population of similar age and the absence of a similar health history. Subsequently, the total diet consumption of the targeted animals was evaluated in the two years prior to the introduction to EVE and compared to the total diet consumption during the initial 2 years of regular EVE sessions. There was a significant decrease in the number of days in which the sea lions did not consume their entire offered diet in the two years after implementing regular EVE sessions, an increase in participation and performance of voluntary husbandry behaviors, and a reduction in the number of days animals were clinically ill. This study provides evidence of cognitive enrichment as a management tool to improve animal health and welfare as well as performance in training sessions. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Advances in Marine Mammal Cognition and Cognitive Welfare)
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25 pages, 1766 KiB  
Article
Training the Concept of Innovate in Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) Is Both Creative and Cognitively Stimulating
by Deirdre B. Yeater, Kathleen M. Dudzinski, Dawn Melzer, Andrew R. Magee, Michaela Robinett, Gonzalo Guerra, Kimberly Salazar, Teri Bolton and Heather Manitzas Hill
Animals 2024, 14(6), 896; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani14060896 - 14 Mar 2024
Viewed by 1420
Abstract
Creative or novel behaviors in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) can be indicators of flexible thinking and problem solving. Over 50 years ago, two rough-tooth dolphins demonstrated creative novel behaviors acquired through reinforcement training in human care. Since this novel training, a [...] Read more.
Creative or novel behaviors in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) can be indicators of flexible thinking and problem solving. Over 50 years ago, two rough-tooth dolphins demonstrated creative novel behaviors acquired through reinforcement training in human care. Since this novel training, a variety of species have been trained to respond to this conceptual cue. The current study assessed the creativity of 12 bottlenose dolphins (5 females, 7 males) housed at the Roatan Institute for Marine Sciences (RIMS) in Roatan, Honduras. Individual differences were found across four constructs measured for creativity: fluency, flexibility, elaboration, and originality. Variability in performance occurred across test sessions. Animals with less experience with this task performed fewer “innovative” behaviors as compared to more experienced animals. Despite errors, dolphins continued to attempt the task during test sessions, suggesting the concept of “innovate” was intrinsically rewarding and cognitively engaging. This task may be utilized across species to promote the comparative study of innovative or creative behavior as well as to promote cognitive welfare. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Advances in Marine Mammal Cognition and Cognitive Welfare)
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15 pages, 3292 KiB  
Article
Matching-to-Sample Task Training of a Killer Whale (Orcinus orca)
by Ayumu Santa, Koji Kanda, Tomoya Kako, Momoko Miyajima and Ikuma Adachi
Animals 2024, 14(6), 821; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani14060821 - 7 Mar 2024
Viewed by 1038
Abstract
Matching-to-sample tasks have been a useful method in visual cognitive studies on non-human animals. The use of touch panels in matching-to-sample tasks has contributed to cognitive studies on terrestrial animals; however, there has been a difficulty in using these devices underwater, which is [...] Read more.
Matching-to-sample tasks have been a useful method in visual cognitive studies on non-human animals. The use of touch panels in matching-to-sample tasks has contributed to cognitive studies on terrestrial animals; however, there has been a difficulty in using these devices underwater, which is one of the factors that has slowed the progress of visual studies on underwater animals. Cetaceans (e.g., dolphins and whales) are highly adapted to underwater environments, and further studies on their cognitive abilities are needed to advance our understanding of the interactions between environmental factors and the evolution of cognitive abilities. In this study, we aimed to develop a new experimental method in which a captive killer whale performed a matching-to-sample task using a monitor shown through an underwater window as if a touch panel were used. In order to confirm the usefulness of this method, one simple experiment on mirror image discrimination was conducted, and the pairs with mirror images were shown to be more difficult to identify than the pairs with other normal images. The advantages of using this method include (1) simplicity in the devices and stimuli used in the experiments, (2) appropriate and rigorous experimental control, (3) the possibility of increasing the number of individuals to be tested and interspecies comparisons, and (4) contributions to animal welfare. The use of this method solves some of the problems in previous visual cognitive studies on cetaceans, and it suggests the further possibility of future comparative cognitive studies. It is also expected to contribute to animal welfare in terms of cognitive enrichment, and it could help with the proposal of new exhibition methods in zoos and aquariums. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Advances in Marine Mammal Cognition and Cognitive Welfare)
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32 pages, 1417 KiB  
Article
Dolphin-WET—Development of a Welfare Evaluation Tool for Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) under Human Care
by Katrin Baumgartner, Tim Hüttner, Isabella L. K. Clegg, Manuel Garcia Hartmann, Daniel Garcia-Párraga, Xavier Manteca, Birgitta Mercera, Tania Monreal-Pawlowsky, Cristina Pilenga, Kerstin Ternes, Oriol Tallo-Parra, Ruta Vaicekauskaite, Lorenzo von Fersen, Lisa Yon and Fabienne Delfour
Animals 2024, 14(5), 701; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani14050701 - 23 Feb 2024
Viewed by 2015
Abstract
Ensuring high standards of animal welfare is not only an ethical duty for zoos and aquariums, but it is also essential to achieve their conservation, education, and research goals. While for some species, animal welfare assessment frameworks are already in place, little has [...] Read more.
Ensuring high standards of animal welfare is not only an ethical duty for zoos and aquariums, but it is also essential to achieve their conservation, education, and research goals. While for some species, animal welfare assessment frameworks are already in place, little has been done for marine animals under human care. Responding to this demand, the welfare committee of the European Association for Aquatic Mammals (EAAM) set up a group of experts on welfare science, cetacean biology, and zoo animal medicine across Europe. Their objective was to develop a comprehensive tool to evaluate the welfare of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), named Dolphin-WET. The tool encompasses 49 indicators that were either validated through peer review or management-based expertise. The first of its kind, the Dolphin-WET is a species-specific welfare assessment tool that provides a holistic approach to evaluating dolphin welfare. Inspired by Mellor’s Five Domains Model and the Welfare Quality®, its hierarchical structure allows for detailed assessments from overall welfare down to specific indicators. Through combining 37 animal-based and 12 resource-based indicators that are evaluated based on a two- or three-level scoring, the protocol offers a detailed evaluation of individual dolphins. This approach allows for regular internal monitoring and targeted welfare management, enabling caretakers to address specific welfare concerns effectively. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Advances in Marine Mammal Cognition and Cognitive Welfare)
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15 pages, 630 KiB  
Article
Imitation of Novel Intransitive Body Actions in a Beluga Whale (Delphinapterus leucas): A “Do as Other Does” Study
by José Zamorano-Abramson and María Victoria Hernández-Lloreda
Animals 2023, 13(24), 3763; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani13243763 - 6 Dec 2023
Viewed by 1582
Abstract
Cetaceans are well known for their unique behavioral habits, such as calls and tactics. The possibility that these are acquired through social learning continues to be explored. This study investigates the ability of a young beluga whale to imitate novel behaviors. Using a [...] Read more.
Cetaceans are well known for their unique behavioral habits, such as calls and tactics. The possibility that these are acquired through social learning continues to be explored. This study investigates the ability of a young beluga whale to imitate novel behaviors. Using a do-as-other-does paradigm, the subject observed the performance of a conspecific demonstrator involving familiar and novel behaviors. The subject: (1) learned a specific ‘copy’ command; (2) copied 100% of the demonstrator’s familiar behaviors and accurately reproduced two out of three novel actions; (3) achieved full matches on the first trial for a subset of familiar behaviors; and (4) demonstrated proficiency in coping with each familiar behavior as well as the two novel behaviors. This study provides the first experimental evidence of a beluga whale’s ability to imitate novel intransitive (non-object-oriented) body movements on command. These results contribute to our understanding of the remarkable ability of cetaceans, including dolphins, orcas, and now beluga whales, to engage in multimodal imitation involving sounds and movements. This ability, rarely documented in non-human animals, has significant implications for the development of survival strategies, such as the acquisition of knowledge about natal philopatry, migration routes, and traditional feeding areas, among these marine mammals. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Advances in Marine Mammal Cognition and Cognitive Welfare)
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18 pages, 2207 KiB  
Article
Environmental Enrichment Devices Are Safe and Effective at Reducing Undesirable Behaviors in California Sea Lions and Northern Elephant Seals during Rehabilitation
by Kirsten Donald, Amanda Benedetti, Vinícius Donisete Lima Rodrigues Goulart, Alissa Deming, Hendrik Nollens, Grey Stafford and Sabrina Brando
Animals 2023, 13(7), 1222; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani13071222 - 31 Mar 2023
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 3727
Abstract
Environmental enrichment devices (EEDs) have been proven to promote positive wellbeing in zoos and aquariums, and support animals’ reintroduction success; however, their use in rehabilitation centers is still limited. This pilot study investigated the safety and efficacy of three EEDs, Artificial Kelp, Horse [...] Read more.
Environmental enrichment devices (EEDs) have been proven to promote positive wellbeing in zoos and aquariums, and support animals’ reintroduction success; however, their use in rehabilitation centers is still limited. This pilot study investigated the safety and efficacy of three EEDs, Artificial Kelp, Horse KONG and Wubba Kong, and their ability to decrease and/or eliminate undesired stereotypic behaviors or looking at staff/staff areas in seven wild California sea lions (CSLs) and eight northern elephant seals (NESs) undergoing rehabilitation in Southern California. Observers conducted instantaneous sampling once a minute during a 30-min baseline, followed by a 30-min EED implementation on one focal animal at a time. The data were analyzed with generalized linear mixed models (GLMM). All three EEDs were found to be durable and safe throughout the study. Our results show a significant reduction in stereotypical behaviors compared to no EED treatments in CSLs, with the most significant effect being with the Horse KONG. The Wubba KONG™ and Artificial Kelp provisions also reduced the undesired behavior in both species of being focused on human caretakers. Individual preferences for specific EEDs were found within species and between species, with the NESs using EEDs more than the CSLs. This study highlights the beneficial aspect of EEDs for pinnipeds in rehabilitation centers for improving their quality of life. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Advances in Marine Mammal Cognition and Cognitive Welfare)
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Review

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15 pages, 294 KiB  
Review
Minding the Minds: A Primer on Cognitive Challenge for Marine Mammals in Human Care
by Kelly Jaakkola
Animals 2024, 14(6), 949; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani14060949 - 19 Mar 2024
Viewed by 2211
Abstract
The past several decades have witnessed significant improvement in the physical welfare of marine mammals in zoos and aquariums. Over that same time period, research has revealed complex cognitive abilities in at least some of these species, yet there has been comparatively little [...] Read more.
The past several decades have witnessed significant improvement in the physical welfare of marine mammals in zoos and aquariums. Over that same time period, research has revealed complex cognitive abilities in at least some of these species, yet there has been comparatively little attention paid to addressing their cognitive welfare per se. Studies primarily conducted with terrestrial animals have suggested that providing appropriate cognitive challenges in managed care settings can improve animal well-being. As a step toward facilitating this practice with marine mammals, this paper discusses factors relevant for creating appropriate cognitive challenges, outlines the three major categories of cognitive challenge that have been utilized with marine mammals, along with the logistical pros and cons of each, and calls on organizations that care for marine mammals to cultivate a bias for action with respect to providing cognitive care. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Advances in Marine Mammal Cognition and Cognitive Welfare)

Other

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10 pages, 217 KiB  
Commentary
An Ecological and Neural Argument for Developing Pursuit-Based Cognitive Enrichment for Sea Lions in Human Care
by Peter F. Cook and Colleen Reichmuth
Animals 2024, 14(5), 797; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani14050797 - 4 Mar 2024
Viewed by 757
Abstract
While general enrichment strategies for captive animals attempt to elicit variable and species-typical behaviors, approaches to cognitive enrichment have been disappointingly one-size-fits-all. In this commentary, we address the potential benefit of tailoring cognitive enrichment to the “cognitive niche” of the species, with a [...] Read more.
While general enrichment strategies for captive animals attempt to elicit variable and species-typical behaviors, approaches to cognitive enrichment have been disappointingly one-size-fits-all. In this commentary, we address the potential benefit of tailoring cognitive enrichment to the “cognitive niche” of the species, with a particular focus on a reasonably well-studied marine carnivore, the sea lion. Sea lions likely share some cognitive evolutionary pressures with primates, including complex social behavior. Their foraging ecology, however, like that of many terrestrial carnivores, is based on the rapid and behaviorally flexible pursuit of avoidant prey. Unlike terrestrial carnivores, sea lions carry out this pursuit in a truly fluid three-dimensional field, computing and executing sensorimotor transformations from any solid angle to any other. The cognitive demands of flexible prey pursuit are unlikely to be fully elicited by typical stationary puzzle box style foraging enrichment devices or screen-based interactive games. With this species, we recommend exploring more water-based movement activities generally, and complex pursuit challenges specifically. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Advances in Marine Mammal Cognition and Cognitive Welfare)
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