Monday, July 7, 2008

How We Decide Which Dolphins Do Research

Talon and Rainbow are only two of the many dolphins who have participated in research projects.

When observing one of our research sessions, guests often ask how we decide which dolphins take part in a particular study. It isn’t a question of purposely trying to pick the “smartest” dolphins in the family. After all, we think they’re all pretty smart!

Instead, we consider the entire pod and ask ourselves questions like, Who has time to participate? and What else are they doing? Some studies take years to complete. In that case, we also have to look at long term plans. For example, if a female dolphin is pregnant, or might become pregnant, she’s going to be too busy raising her calf for the next few years to concentrate on a research project.

One very important question we always ask about individual dolphins is, Does he or she enjoy doing research? Remember, each dolphin has his or her own, unique “dolphinality”, so it stands to reason they might have likes and dislikes. Some dolphins totally love doing research. They get excited when we arrive at their lagoon with the apparatus and are eager to “play the game” when we ask the question. They don’t get discouraged easily and are willing to try again, even after they answer incorrectly. They don’t mind the repetition.

Other dolphins . . . not so much. There are other activities that they enjoy more. We respect those preferences.

It all comes down to the particular study and eachdolphin. Thankfully, we have many that enjoy participating in research. With their help, we learn more about their species and are then able to share that knowledge with you and the rest of the world!