Optimal marine mammal welfare under human care: Current efforts and future directions
Marine mammals include cetaceans, pinnipeds, sirenians, sea otters and polar bears, many of which are charismatic and popular species commonly kept under human care in zoos and aquaria. However, in comparison with their fully terrestrial counterparts their welfare has been less intensively studied, and their partial or full reliance on the aquatic environment leads to unique welfare challenges. In this paper we attempt to collate and review the research undertaken thus far on marine mammal welfare, and identify the most important gaps in knowledge. We use ‘best practice case studies’ to highlight examples of research promoting optimal welfare, include suggestions for future directions of research efforts, and make recommendations to strive for optimal welfare, where it is currently lacking, above and beyond minimum legislation and guidelines. Our review of the current literature shows that recently there have been positive forward strides in marine mammal welfare assessment, but fundamental research is still required to validate positive and negative indicators of welfare in marine mammals. Across all marine mammals, more research is required on the dimensions and complexity of pools and land areas necessary for optimal welfare, and the impact of staff absence for most of the 24-h day, as standard working hours are usually between 0900 and 1700.