A popular online video of a sea otter playing basketball has opened an ethical debate over how appropriate it is to train zoo animals to behave in certain ways.

While Eddie's antics seem like fun and games, officials at the Oregon Zoo have said the slam-dunking is actually helping the aging animal exercise its arthritic joints.

Tim Sinclair-Smith, director of zoological operations at Winnipeg's Assiniboine Park Zoo, spoke to CBC's Information Radio on Friday about the ethics of training wild animals being kept in captivity.

In the case of Eddie, Sinclair-Smith said the Oregon Zoo has found a unique way to help the sea otter deal with its medical issue.

But he said the Assiniboine Park Zoo would not do what an aquarium in Sebastopol, Ukraine, did recently, training a dolphin to come out of its pool and crawl on its belly across the deck as a trainer leads it along.

Sinclair-Smith said the Winnipeg zoo prefers to let animals behave naturally, or in ways that would benefit the animals' health, as well as employ positive reinforcement training.

The Assiniboine Park Zoo is currently working with Hudson, a 15-month-old polar bear that moved to Winnipeg from the Toronto Zoo earlier this year.

Sinclair-Smith said Hudson is being trained to check its stomach and feet, as well as to open its mouth to look at its teeth and gums, for medical reasons.