For several centuries, humans have kept wild animals in captivity for their own amusement but also to improve their knowledge about many fascinating species. Moreover, for several decades, Zoos & Aquariums, and more recently, Marine parks (all indicated as “Z&A” hereafter), have aimed to be heavily involved in the conservation of species threatened by extinction in their natural environment. On the other hand, concern about these captive individuals’ welfare is growing in the world's occidental part, leading to several Z&A closures. This concern is particularly strong for marine mammals, with many governmental decisions made as we are speaking (e.g., in France). Simultaneously, many wild marine mammal populations are crashing because of direct (e.g., boat traffic, tourism) or indirect (e.g., intensive fishery, pollution) effects of anthropic activities. For conservation purposes, Z&A’s may be seen as an “ark” where captive populations can be maintained and increased with the aim to release individuals in the future. However, this requires a minimum of individuals in captivity to preserve the genetic diversity, and the welfare of these individuals should, of course, be considered when performing this plan. Therefore, a global image of the evolution of the historical collection of marine mammals in Z&A’s across the last 150 years and the five different continents, and how the social and historical movements have influenced this evolution should provide key highlights to improve welfare and management of the ex situ populations. Finally, and very ambitiously, this project could be the basis of an improvement of the dialogue between Z&A’s, the public, and the animal rights charities, to move forward together to the similar goal of protecting these highly charismatic species.
Through this project, I will aim to provide an overall image of the evolution of marine mammals’ historical collection in Z&A’s across the last 150 years and the five continents. This information is crucial to settle an effective ex situ population management program and then help Z&A’s to increase their implication in the conservation of threatened species. To do that, I will proceed in several steps:
(i) To provide the list of marine mammal species currently alive in Z&A’s, as well as the list of all marine mammal species present in Z&A’s since 1870. These lists will include the number of individuals per sex and continent, and provide an overview of the species distribution in Z&A’s today and through time.
(ii) To characterize the evolution of the number of males and females of each species across the last 150 years. Additionally, explore how the number of marine animal species has changed over time. This evolution will be presented from a worldwide perspective, and then for each continent.
(iii) The evolution of each species and the different continents will be scrutinized and compared to the human population's social and historical evolution to understand the drivers of these variations. For instance, the recently growing importance of Animal Right Charities or the evolution of each species' IUCN status will be considered.
I will use historical collection data from the Zoological Information Management System (ZIMS) to gain this information. ZIMS database gathers diverse information from individuals living in more than 1,100 institutions worldwide for more than one century. Analysis of the evolution of marine mammals’ historical collection will be performed using the open R Studio software.
The project will be divided into different phases (see Table 1). During the first phase of the project, three 1h meetings a week will be planned (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) via zoom to explore the dataset through training with the main supervisor on R Studio. Once I feel more comfortable, we will have weekly meetings via zoom to present and discuss my progress. My supervisors will be available by email anytime I meet difficulties or have a question. The first version of my thesis will be sent to my supervisors in mid-May to ensure that some time is remaining to correct and discuss the redaction.