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Abstract: Assessments of animal welfare can be complex and controversial, including where captive and free-ranging aquatic mammal welfare are of concern. An assessor’s value preferences, attitudes, personal experience, and societal values are examples of factors that inform how animal welfare is evaluated. While there is not a single measure of animal welfare that is universally accepted, assessments of the welfare of aquatic mammals can be fruitful if informed by tried and true standards and indicators. Animal welfare is best viewed within context and relative to opportunities for improvement, although some animal welfare concerns may clearly be dichotomized as “good” or “bad” via animal welfare assessment tools. Tools used for assessing animal welfare can be grouped into general categories, including behavioral indicators, physiological indicators, engineering standards, and performance standards. Mellor’s Five Domains Model provides a framework for integrating multiple indicators and standards; however, while there are generally agreed upon concepts of animal welfare, such as sufficient quality and quantity of food, assessors’ values (belief systems) impact their perceptions of animal welfare. This can cause intractable disagreements that can be understood through Fraser’s Three Orientations Model in which function-, feeling-, and natural lives-based values of animal welfare are distinguished.
Still, discordance among these values can remain and can be amplified by differences in desired outcomes and how to achieve these outcomes. Tension between values confounds the resolution of tradeoffs that inevitably exist between differing animal management options such as resolution of the tension between captive individual and population-level welfare concerns for social species. Additional contextual challenges for addressing aquatic mammal welfare include assessment of welfare in different captive settings, increased attention to the affective states of animals, and the welfare of free-ranging aquatic mammals. Resolution of aquatic mammal welfare challenges ultimately depends upon stakeholders’ personal relationships and a willingness to engage in constructive dialogue. This dialogue must be focused on optimally addressing animal needs for a particular set of circumstances by using animal-based measures based on the animal’s perspective rather than the advancement of a set viewpoint.
Key Words: aquatic mammals, animal welfare, behavioral indicators, physiological indicators, engineering standards, performance standards, Five Domains Model, Three Orientations Model, value system
Page Numbers: 221-230
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