July 15, 2021

Big Brains in Small Spaces: The Impact of Confinement on the Brains of Cetaceans and Elephants

Elephants and cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) are socially complex and wide-ranging animals, but these characteristics are incompatible with physical and mental welfare in the confined, impoverished, artificial environments of zoos and marine parks.

In this symposium, we explore the potential harms of confinement in zoos and aquariums on the brains of elephants and cetaceans. We discuss the general brain mechanisms that come into play in all animals who are forced to live in chronically stressful, impoverished and highly artificial environments. We describe the physical and mental abnormalities many elephants and cetaceans exhibit while living in zoos and marine parks. And we discuss the problematic ethics of captive cetaceans and elephants in light of such harm and how sanctuaries can play a role in restoring the health and wellbeing of these animals.

This 90-minute live webinar will begin with four short, pre-recorded videos on the following topics:

  1. Neurocaptivity: The impoverishment of the brain;
  2. Neuropsychiatric consequences of impoverished environments;
  3. Consequences of impoverished environments for the physical health of captive elephants and cetaceans;
  4. Autonomy and captive environments.

These will be followed by a live conversation and Q&A with webinar attendees.

Hosted by Lori Marino, PhD, neuroscientist and President of the Whale Sanctuary Project.


  • Bob Jacobs, PhD, Professor of Psychology, Colorado College;
  • L Syd Johnson, PhD, Associate Professor, Center for Bioethics and Humanities, Upstate Medical University;
  • Heather Rally, DVM, Supervising Veterinarian, Foundation to Support Animal Protection.

More information can be found here