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By Victoria Gill Science correspondent, BBC News
28 May 2018

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Are captive dolphins "happy"?

Scientists working with dolphins at a marine park near Paris have attempted to measure how the animals feel about aspects of their lives in captivity.

In what researchers say is the first project to examine captivity "from the animals' perspective", the team assessed what activities dolphins looked forward to most.

They found that the marine mammals most keenly anticipated interacting with a familiar human.

The results, they say, show that "better human-animal bonds equals better welfare".

The study, published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science , was part of a three-year project to measure dolphin welfare in a captive setting.

Lead researcher Dr Isabella Clegg worked at Parc Astérix, a theme park with one of France's largest dolphinariums.

With colleagues at the University of Paris animal behaviour lab, she designed experiments to decode dolphin behaviour - essentially looking for physical postures that indicate how the animals were feeling.

"We wanted to find out what activities in captivity they like most," Dr Clegg told the BBC.

To work this out, she tested three activities: a trainer coming and playing with dolphins; adding toys to the pool; and a control, which meant leaving the dolphins to their own devices.

"We found a really interesting result - all dolphins look forward most to interacting with a familiar human," Dr Clegg said.

The animals showed this anticipation by "spy hopping", the action of peering above the surface and looking in the direction that trainers usually approached from.

The dolphins would also increase their level of activity in the pool and spend more time at the edge.

"We've seen this same thing in other zoo animals and in farm animals," said Dr Clegg, adding: "Better human-animal bonds equals better welfare."

The question of whether it is right or wrong to hold these animals in captivity has long been a point of contention, particularly in France.

Many developed countries are now adopting a policy of reducing salt intake, firstly by persuading the food industry to reformulate food with less salt, as is occurring successfully in the UK 75 and Finland, 77 and also encouraging people to use less salt in their own cooking and at the table. The major challenge now is to spread this out to all other countries, particularly the low and middle income countries, where often salt intake is high and about 80% of the global burden of disease related to blood pressure occurs. All countries should adopt a coherent and workable strategy to reduce salt intake. A reduction in population salt intake will have major beneficial effects on health along with major cost savings in all countries around the world.

What is already known on this topic

A modest reduction in salt intake lowers blood pressure and thereby reduces cardiovascular risk

A recent meta-analysis of salt reduction trials implied that salt reduction had adverse effects on hormones and lipids, which might mitigate any benefit that occurs with the reduction in blood pressure. This meta-analysis, however, included a large number of trials with a large change in salt intake for only a few days, which are irrelevant to the current public health recommendations for a modest reduction in salt intake for a long period of time

What this study adds

A longer term modest reduction in salt intake leads to significant and, from a population viewpoint, important falls in blood pressure in both hypertensive and normotensive individuals, irrespective of sex and ethnic group

With salt reduction, there is a small physiological increase in plasma renin activity, aldosterone, and noradrenaline and no significant change in lipid concentrations

There is a dose-response relation between the reduction in salt intake and the fall in systolic blood pressure. The current recommendations to reduce salt intake from 9-12 to 5-6 g/day will have a major effect but a further reduction to 3 g/day will have a greater effect

Notes

Cite this as: 2013;346:f1325

Footnotes

We thank the authors who kindly provided the subgroup data and the data necessary for the computation of some of the variables included in our meta-analysis. We also thank Douglas Salzwedel at the Cochrane Hypertension Group for his help with the development of search strategy and running the search strategy for electronic databases.

Contributors: FH and JL screened the titles and abstracts, assessed trials for inclusion and trial quality, and extracted data. FH performed statistical analyses and wrote the draft manuscript. FH, JL, and GM contributed to the revision and final version of the paper. FJH is guarantor.

Funding: This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

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