April 14th is Dolphin Day! We’re celebrating by featuring an exciting study focused on one of the ocean’s most intelligent and charismatic inhabitants. Today, dolphins inspire joy and relaxation in humans as one of many animals used in Animal-Assisted Interventions (AAIs) worldwide. With their playful nature and seemingly constant smiles, it’s natural to think this is a mutually beneficial relationship. But could too much human interaction cause stress in the dolphins involved in the program? 

How to Measure Stress Levels in Dolphins 

A recently translated study conducted by Marin Matsushiro and colleagues sought to evaluate the stress levels in common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) participating in a Dolphin Interactive Program (DIP) in Okinawa, Japan. Researchers used the Arbor Assays DetectX® Cortisol ELISA Kit (K003-H) to measure plasma cortisol levels—a well-known stress biomarker—in nine female dolphins before and after DIP sessions across different seasons. 

The study observed that, on average, dolphin cortisol levels did not significantly increase after DIP sessions, suggesting little acute stress from the interactions. However, researchers noted a chronic cortisol increase during seasons with high visitor numbers, highlighting the importance of ongoing monitoring and tailored management strategies to ensure the dolphins’ welfare. 

Finding Balance with Therapy Animals 

This study underscores a critical balance in utilizing animal-assisted interventions: maximizing therapeutic benefits for humans while ensuring the absolute well-being of the animals involved. By leveraging sensitive and reliable tools like the Arbor Assays Cortisol ELISA Kit, researchers can accurately assess stress levels in dolphins, paving the way for more ethical and sustainable AAI practices. 

As we celebrate Dolphin Day and appreciate the incredible bond between humans and dolphins, let’s ensure these magnificent creatures enjoy the highest possible quality of life. Through diligent research and the right tools, we can continue to enjoy the benefits of our interactions with dolphins while safeguarding their well-being. After all, our joy should never come at their expense. 

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