The bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) is the most common Cetacean kept in the Aquariums and Dolphinariums throughout the world; this species has been hosted in the tanks of Acquario di Genova since 1993 and since 2004 in the lagoon of Oltremare park.
For more than 25 years, a dedicated staff of aquarists, trainers, biologists and veterinary physicians of Costa Edutainment, has developed a specific know-how on these animals.
The experience gained in the management of individuals hosted over the years and the activity of scientific research carried out in a natural environment (in situ) and in a controlled environment (ex situ) have allowed to deepen knowledge about biology and behaviour of this species. The information collected, shared with the scientific community, are useful for the development of conservation projects supporting management protocols for the welfare of the animals and their reproduction.
The research project performed by Acquario di Genova in nature is Metropolitan Dolphins (http://www.delfinimetropolitani.it/) that since 2001 has been studied the presence and habits of dolphins along the Pelagos Sanctuary coasts and their interactions with the human activities.
As of 2011 the data of the Metropolitan Dolphins project are regularly shared in the Intercet platform (www.intercet.it) and compared with those collected by other research entities taking part in the network, to determine the conservation status of this species in the Mediterranean Sea (see Intercet and TursioMed projects).
In 2011, Acquario di Genova has received the recognition of Zoological Garden based on the Italian regulation and since 1998 is part of the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums (EAZA).
Since 1992, the staff of the Aquarium takes part in the activities promoted by the European Association for Aquatic Mammals (EAAM) that takes care of the maintenance in a controlled environment of aquatic mammals promoting conservation activities through in situ and ex situ research, the development of specific veterinary medicine techniques, training, education and other related activities (www.eaam.org). Since 2015 Acquario di Genova has become an institutional member.
The Oltremare Park, acquired in 2012 by the Costa Edutainment group, has received the licence of Zoological Garden in 2016, based on the national regulations, published in the Official Journal of 28th April 2016.
Here below, details about:
- Action of dissemination
- Facilities hosting the dolphins
- Interactions between dolphins and staff
- Regulations for maintenance of bottlenose dolphins
- The origin of dolphins housed in Acquario di Genova and Oltremare
- Research on Cetaceans
- Action of dissemination
The knowledge developed through the maintenance of this species and the research projects are behind the action of dissemination and awareness that the Costa Edutainment facilities have always performed, consistently with their mission.
The mission of Acquario di Genova (http://conservazione.acquariodigenova.it/)
The mission of Oltremare http://www.oltremare.org/mission.php.
The animals housed in the Costa Edutainment facilities act as ambassadors of messages related to safeguard and protection of the resources of our Planet.
The visit of the facilities along with meeting moments and follow-up activities with our experts bring the public closer to the natural world and invite people to adopt a correct behaviour with the environment in line with the mission of the same facilities.
In particular, for this reason, Oltremare has created the appointment “Know the dolphins”, a moment dedicated to the knowledge, awareness and meeting with the dolphins. The public can attend sessions of different kind, receiving information about the behaviours that the dolphins put into practice in the various phases of their life, but also discovering the management techniques applied by their caretakers every day, involving also the use of abstract concepts (Concept training) to develop an increasingly advanced communication between man and dolphin.
Furthermore, Oltremare offers to the public ‘Dolphins – The spectacle of nature’: the appointment dedicated to the emotions and the discovery of dolphins, man and nature. A captivating mix to experience a daydream where you can know marine mammals, and be able to have a look at their world, made of jumps, sprays, sounds and interactions.
With the same educational purpose, Acquario di Genova offers to the public three meetings per day in the Cetacean Pavilion and, from 2018, “Face to face with the dolphins”, an activity of almost 1h30 reserved to small groups. The participants, accompanied by an official guide of the Aquarium, have the possibility to meet the staff that takes care of the dolphins and to access technical areas usually not accessible to learn notions of training and take active part in the session of enrichment.
As part of the experience, there is an explanation of the research activities of Acquario di Genova on bottlenose dolphin, with follow-up of biology, ecology, ethology and safeguard of the species.
The team of trainers, biologists and veterinaries, guarantees a high-quality standard both for the social life of the specimen hosted and for the value of awareness of visitors with respect to the environmental issues. The public can book two different interactive programmes (for a fee) where the training staff explains their stories and the bonds which come to be every day with the family of dolphins.
The first programme, lasting three hours, is “Trainer for one day” and includes a real full immersion in the magic world of dolphins and is articulated in different phases: a theoretical class where the biologist explains elements of Biology, Evolution and Conservation of Cetaceans, with a general introduction to the management in a controlled environment of the dolphins, preparation of food, the game and the real training. Then there is the acrylic session, where the participants experience in person the possibility to communicate with animals. Finally, at the Oltremare Lagoon, professional trainers complete the experience with the opportunity to communicate with the dolphins through the signals, without entrance in the water and without direct contact with the animal.
The second programme, lasting one hour, is “Meet the dolphin”. Also this one entails a short briefing with the biologist at the main acrylic and the movement to the Lagoon for the practical phase. In the theoretical session the biologist makes a general introduction to the management in a controlled environment of the dolphins. In the practical session, the participants are involved in a training session made by professional trainers, without entrance in the water and without direct contact with the animal.
As part of the action of dissemination there is also the project “Save a Species in danger”, promoted by Oltremare along with Acquario di Cattolica, dedicated to make aware the general public and intended to support projects of conservation of some species at risk of becoming extinct with an international participation. The project makes use of the Patronage and moral recognition of the Ministry for the Environment and the Protection of the Territory and the Sea, of the Region Emilia Romagna and the Municipality of Cattolica. An idea that was born and is developed to contribute in an active way to support national and international programmes with a view to appraise and support all those selected organizations that are concretely committed in the protection and safeguard of threatened species.
For further details www.salvaunaspecie.it
Facilities hosting the dolphins
Acquario di Genova
The Cetacean Pavilion that today houses the bottlenose dolphins is a real unprecedented “unique work” in Italy from the engineering point of view, for design aspects related to the respect of the welfare of the animals.
It is a facility with connected tanks, with a total volume of water equal to 4,8 million litres. The choice of the colour of the tank bottom, dark blue, is related to the will to reproduce as closely as possible the marine environment where these animals live and at the same time not to harm their eyes.
Since autumn 2012, the water of all the tanks of the Aquarium is collected at 50 m deep out into the Genoese coast, filtered, analysed and disinfected before entering into the tanks, to maintain the high-quality standards to protect the welfare of the animals.
In order to allow a major quickness in case of any veterinary intervention, all the tanks can be easily isolated through watertight doors isolating the tank concerned without preventing the passage to the other three tanks. Two of the tanks of the Pavilion are equipped in the bottom with a movable platform that can be lifted towards the surface, allowing to reach the animals in a very short time in case of emergency, without having to empty partially the tank and at the same time be able to bring the animals back to immersion.
For the veterinary and aquariology staff there is a room designed for the “underwater” examination of animals in every tank.
A small open-air area, designed to allow visitors with motor disabilities to move closer to animals, even if without contact, was realized for the development of social projects mainly targeted to underprivileged children to whom Costa Edutainment makes available its staff twice a month for a free visit poolside.
In that behalf, in 2014, a cooperation has been initiated with the Paediatric Institution Giannina Gaslini for an ongoing programme of free guided tours dedicated to the children being treated at the Institution.
The dolphins of Oltremare live in the Lagoon, one of the most exciting one in Europe.
The Lagoon of Dolphins has a total volume of 9 million litres of salty water, comprises 5 connected tanks and a connection channel and has been designed to offer to the animals the best life possible. In order to allow a greater speed in case of veterinary intervention, also in this facility every tank can be easily isolated through watertight doors.
The nursery tank, used in case of births or emergency service, has a movable bottom, a real automated platform that where necessary can be lifted allowing an easy access to the animals present in the tank, without the need to empty it and to bring quickly the animals back to immersion. All the tanks have some working platforms to allow an easy access to animals and staff and there are big acrylics that allow the underwater examination of animals.
Interactions between dolphins and staff
The meals of the animals and the moments of interaction between bottlenose dolphins and the staff of Acquario di Genova occurs many times per day before the public. During these meetings, the staff tells to its public the biology of the animals and the ecological and conservation problems being available to answer any question and for insights. The interactions are different from time to time, alternating dynamic interactions with sessions to monitor the individual wellness.
The natural behaviour of bottlenose dolphins includes many activities such as various types of swimming, games, jumps, communication and activities of socialization contextualized in the environment where they are.
In Oltremare the moments of interaction and feeding of dolphins are divided into sessions of various type: dynamic, medical, social and game. In both daily appointments ‘Know the dolphins’ and ‘Dolphins the spectacle of nature’ the public can see part of these interactions.
Each and every bottlenose dolphin is then included in a programme of medical prevention, through which its health condition is monitored. Veterinaries and biologists can perform routine controls (blood sampling, ultrasounds, biometric measurements, etc.) with the cooperation of the same animal taking part in controls in a voluntary way.
Regulations for maintenance of bottlenose dolphins
Bottlenose dolphins are included in the red list of the International Union for the Conservation of the Nature (IUCN) because considered species at minimum risk of becoming extinct. As all the protected species, they are included in the lists of the Convention of Washington (CITES) regulating their trade throughout the world. In Europe the trade is limited to the specimen born in a controlled environment and the collection of dolphins from the sea is prohibited, as well as the entrance of animals caught in the sea, including where the catch has been performed out of the borders of the Union. Therefore, the dolphins hosted at the facilities of Costa Edutainment are collected in nature before 1992 (before the European Community implemented the regulations of the Convention of Washington (CITES), or born in a controlled environment. For every specimen maintained in a controlled environment there is a certificate certifying their origin issued by the competent Authority (in Italy the Carabinieri Unit Station for the Forestry, Environmental and Agricultural and Food Protection – CITES Service prior approval of the CITES Scientific committee).
Italy is one of the few countries to have a specific regulation giving provisions on the maintenance in a controlled environment of bottlenose dolphins; the Regulation amending the decree 6th December 2001, no. 469, on maintenance in captivity of specimen of dolphins belonging to the species Tursiops truncatus. (17G00184) and implemented also by the decree on zoos (Legislative Decree 73/2005) and further amended by the Decree 14th September 2017, no. 171. Regulation amending the decree 6th December 2001, no. 469, on maintenance in captivity of specimen of dolphins belonging to the species Tursiops truncates. (17G00184). This decree sets forth the conditions for the maintenance in a controlled environment of the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), only in case specific programmes of education, conservation, research and reproduction are guaranteed.
The origin of dolphins housed in Acquario di Genova and Oltremare
The individuals housed in Acquario di Genova and Oltremare are registered in the European studbook subset of the EEP Programme of EAZA. The groups of animals are exchanged on a regular basis between the European facilities for reproductive and social purposes, rather as happens in nature in social groups that are formed with strategies of fusion and fission, descending from specimens initially caught in a natural environment, many years ago. Costa Edutainment maintains still today some individuals such as Pelè, female of 55 years hosted in Oltremare, the long-lived specimen of Europe.
The European population includes almost 260 specimens equally divided between males and females of which 70% born in a controlled environment.
Currently, the Acquario di Genova hosts also four bottlenose dolphins seized by the competent authority from the Dolphinarium of Rimini in September 2013 and since then entrusted to the Genoese facility.
Research on Cetaceans
Ex situ studies (in a controlled environment)
The studies conducted at Acquario di Genova are mainly focused on ethology – the study of behaviours – and reproduction of the bottlenose dolphin, including in the veterinary context.
Some examples are the study on sleep of the bottlenose dolphin, which examines in depth the capacity of these animals to sleep only with a hemisphere per time to be always able to get to the surface to breathe and to be vigilant in respect of possible hazards.
An important research on the evolution and function of the sleep in a young bottlenose dolphin was published in 2006 in the prestigious international scientific journal Nature.
Another study was published in 2016 in the international journal Population Ecology on social relationships that bottlenose dolphins build with other bottlenose dolphins living in the same territory.
Other researches have been conducted on the communication between mother and puppy and on the systems of individual recognition through “signature whistle”.
At the Oltremare facility, the research has focused on the reproduction of the bottlenose dolphin, with particular attention to the significant parameters for the regular development of puppies, on sociality in a controlled environment and on language.
Having housed for several years a beached specimen of Risso's dolphin (Grampus griseus) has offered the rare chance to examine in depth many aspects (physiology, diet, language) concerning this species so shy and largely unknown. In 2016, the Oltremare staff published the results of a research on the language of this species in the journal Animal Cognition.
While, in 2018, it was possible to conclude an interesting research on the molecular characterization of the gut microbiota of common bottlenose dolphins, in cooperation with Università di Bologna, whose results were shown at the AAAM conference and then published.
The in situ research (in the open sea)
In the area of the Pelagos Sanctuary, Acquario di Genova and the Foundation Acquario di Genova Onlus conduct scientific projects intended to deepen knowledge about Cetaceans and promote their conservation. Two are the main projects: Metropolitan Dolphins and Intercet.
METROPOLITAN DOLPHINS. It started in 2001 with a view to study the presence and habits of dolphins along the Pelagos Sanctuary coasts and their interactions with the human activities.
The research is focused on the bottlenose dolphin, a shallow water dolphin that rarely goes beyond a depth of hundred metres and shares his privileged habitat with a guest often cumbersome: the human.
The dolphins are studied through the “photo-identification” technique that allows to recognize each individual through characteristic marks present on their dorsal fin. Through a comparison of data collected along the Ligurian coast with those of other entities operating within the Pelagos Sanctuary, we have estimated a presence of almost 1000 dolphins, of which 200 identified.
For further details: www.delfinimetropolitani.it
CROCIERACQUARIO, from spring 2008, Metropolitan Dolphins is supported by the project CrocierAcquario that is a half-day boat trip where the participants take part in the activity of researchers with an involvement in the field study activities, learning to recognize the Cetaceans and, even more important, to respect them and their environment.
INTERCET. This is an online platform created and developed by Acquario di Genova for the Region Liguria as part of the Gionha project; its function is that to foster the cooperation between subjects committed in research activities on Cetaceans and marine turtles, through the combination and integrated analysis of data collected from the various entities. For further details: www.intercet.it, www.gionha.eu.
TURSIOMED. This is the largest research project on conservation status of bottlenose dolphins in the Mediterranean Sea in which 25 research entities from 6 Mediterranean countries have taken part. The project is backed by the Blue Planet Virginia Böger Stiftung Foundation and coordinated by the Foundation Acquario di Genova Onlus, with the participation of WWF Svizzera Italiana and the patronage of Accobams (Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans in the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and contiguous Atlantic area). Main goal is the assessment of the conservation status of the Mediterranean bottlenose dolphin, widening the cooperation network between the various research entities. Each entity shall share their data (places where the species being studied and other Cetaceans are seen, photographic data for photo-identification of individuals through natural markings of their dorsal fin) in the platform www.intercet.it created and managed by the Foundation Acquario di Genova for the Region Liguria as part of the GIONHA project.
WHALESAFE. Acquario di Genova takes part in Whalesafe, a project co-financed by the European Union’s Life+ programme, which joins Università degli Studi di Genova (Department of Physics and Department of Earth Science, Environment and Life), Costa Edutainment, Maritime Directorate of Genoa, Harbour Master's Office of Savona and Softeco for the conservation of sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus).
Whalesafe is implementing in the area in front of the port of Savona a system of buoys able to detect and monitor the sperm whales, identify any threat and prevent collisions and other risks by issuing warning messages in real time to ships present in the area. For further details http://www.whalesafe.eu/index.php/it/
In 2012, Oltremare took part in the project of “Prima valutazione della presenza di Cetacei nelle acque delle Isole Comore” [First assessment of the presence of Cetaceans in the water of the Comoros Islands] providing the department of Life Sciences and Biological Systems of Università di Torino and the Faculty of Science and Techniques of the Comoros University with equipment.