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Object manipulation and play behavior in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) under human care

By Fabienne DelFour

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Category Journal Articles

Cetaceans are well-known to display various play activities: numerous scientific papers have documented this phenomenon in wild populations and for delphinids under human care. The present study describes analyses of bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) interactions with man-made objects introduced to their habitat as part of an environmental enrichment program. At Parc Asterix Delphinarium (France), 9 bottlenose dolphins were presented with 21 different objects. During 17 hours and using object-focal follows, we studied the dolphins’ behaviors directed toward the objects, according to the objects physical properties (i.e. complexity and buoyancy). We also documented the body parts the animals used to manipulate the objects. The results show that young dolphins displayed more playful actions towards the introduced objects than their older conspecifics. In general, subjects preferred the objects classified as simple and floating, they displayed a larger variety of behaviours, they spent more time and were more creative with them than with other types of objects. Finally, there was significantly more contact and “manipulation” with the dolphin head area than with the fins, fluke or other body parts. By analyzing the dolphins’ behaviors and actions they directed towards the introduced objects, the present study discusses meanings dolphins might give to their surroundings and the relevance of play behavior to their welfare.


Mason N McLary

HABRI Central

Date 2017
Publication Title International Journal of Comparative Psychology
Volume 30
Pages 1-21
Publisher eScholarship
Location of Publication California
Language English
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal roles
  2. Dolphins
  3. Environment
  4. Ethology
  5. Learning
  6. play