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Cognitive Research with Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) at Disney’s The Seas: A Program for Enrichment, Science, Education, and Conservation

  • Author(s): Harley, Heidi E.
  • Fellner, Wendi
  • Stamper, M. Andy
  • et al.
Abstract

The dolphins at Disney contribute to a cognitive research program. This program has been very successful in four main areas: enrichment, science, education, and conservation. Dolphins are large brained,long-lived mammals with extended developmental periods, complex social lives, a large variety of foraging techniques, and intricate vocal emissions; consequently, they need to engage incognitive tasks, and they respond well to them. Our tasks have been designed for scientifically valid data collection focused mostly on questions relating to echoic object recognition, communication, and imitation/synchrony. The results have been published in peer-reviewed research journals and are summarized here. Data collection occurs in front of the public and appears to create a connection between the visitors and the dolphins. Through this program the dolphins under Disney’s care have been able to promote conservation via our publications, public education, the testing of new technologies, staff (veterinary, research, husbandry) support at in situ research sites, and direct financial contributions. The program may be a useful example for other public facilities housing dolphins.

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