Animal welfare science has traditionally focused on the welfare of domestic or captive animals living under human care. However, there is increasing recognition of the potential for human activities to also impact on the welfare of wild animals, including marine mammals. Furthermore, negative animal welfare consequences can negatively impact conservation outcomes that may drive the human interaction in the first instance. For example, New Zealand has an international reputation not only for its high incidence of whale strandings, but also its degree of human intervention at such events. Despite costly, logistically challenging efforts to 'rescue' live whales, there remains a lack of empirical data around the welfare of such individuals. Indeed, matters of animal welfare, including the impacts of refloatation and the fate of ‘rescued’ individuals remain largely undetermined, even internationally. Conservation Welfare reflects the relatively recent application of the animal welfare ethic to consider the effects of conservation activities on free-living wild animals.
Funded by national and international agencies including The Royal Society Te Apārangi, The Bob Kerridge Animal Welfare Trust and the International Fund for Animal Welfare, our team are investigating innovative technologies alongside AI to build synergies between animal welfare science and conservation practice.
Current projects in this theme include rule-based modelling techniques to assess the probabilistic likelihood of survivorship in refloated animals, post-release diving reflexes in satellite tagged whales and ethological and physiological proxies that can be used in welfare and survivorship assessment of stranded odontocetes. Our team are also exploring how welfare aligns with conservation and management in mammal tourism and other forms human-wildlife interactions.