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Is the training of wild animals exploitation, or something that should be supported?

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It has recently been reported that the training of dolphins in Mexico has been used to help save lives, can this be compared to the negative connotations of training wild animals has in places such as water parks?

Training of wild animals has been used to entertain the public and holidaymakers for many years, from lions and elephants at the circus to sea lions and dolphins jumping through hoops at water parks. As a result of this, the industry has received backlash from the public who believe that this is animal exploitation which is wrong and should be banned. Leading to the dismissal of wild animals performing in the circus, which is enforced by the Animal Welfare Act.

Dolphins have been recently reported in Mexico to be trained and “deployed” to save a rare species – the vaquita porpoise (Phocoena sinus) – which have been in 90% decline from 2011 to 2016 alone, mainly due to the trapping and killing of the mammal in fishing nets (gillnets) that entangle the porpoise which prevent it coming up for air (these have since been banned). The dolphins which have previously worked alongside the United States Navy to locate missing scuba divers have been trained to locate the rare animal, in order to give marine scientists the opportunity to save them from extinction.

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With this news being acknowledged, is this where we draw the line in regards to wild animal exploitation? Or perhaps this is accepted due to the possible saving of human and porpoise lives. However, the opinions which are usually vocalised in respect to the dolphin’s freedom, are silent when it comes to this context in comparison to the species being trained to entertain at water parks.

This should be noted as a positive factor in regard with humans and beasts working alongside one-an-other because many animals have attributes which man cannot compete with. Take for example working dogs, some trained dogs can sense seizures in their owners before they are going to happen. It is amazing what can be taught to an animal with heightened senses, so perhaps marine mammals can be taught beneficial behaviour for environmental protection.

Dolphins are very intelligent mammals, the identification of rare species in the open ocean may just be the beginning of more to come in regard to help protect our marine environment. Perhaps dolphins could be trained to locate other issues, such as locating areas of pollution or identifying illegal fishing nets.

Bethan Goodhead

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