There has also been a great deal of concern about the way
dolphins have been treated by the Navy. In late 1988, marine mammal trainer
Richard Trout went public with an account of how he had witnessed dolphins
and sea lions being mistreated while he was working as a trainer at NOSC
in San Diego. Among Trout's claims were that dolphins were habitually underfed
and would, on occasion, have food withheld or be physically abused for
not performing correctly.
The Navy denied Trout's claims but a three-month investigation by the Marine Mammal Commission, although concluding that Navy maltreatment of dolphins was not 'systematic', acknowledged some problems existed and urged the Navy to make several changes to its training procedures.
Concern for the welfare of the programme's dolphins has prompted some activists to take the Navy to court. In October 1989, a coalition of 15 animal welfare organizations filed a lawsuit in an effort to block the Navy's plan to construct a marine mammal facility with pens for 16 animals at the Trident nuclear submarine base at Bangor in Washington State. Here dolphins will be trained to provide perimeter defense for the eight Trident submarines at the base.
The $150-billion Trident II submarine-launched missile programme is intended to provide 50 per cent of US strategic or long-range nuclear forces over the next 50 years. The 18-22 submarines which will carry these missile are to be based at only two locations - Bangor and King's Bay, Georgia. A quarter to one-third of the fleet will be in port at any one time. The Navy plans to use dolphins to prevent Soviet Spetsnatz special forces from laying mines and thus blocking these submarines' route to the ocean. (The Navy has already conducted two tests using dolphins to clear mines from waters around a naval base for submarines carrying Poseidon strategic nuclear missiles at Charleston, South Carolina.)
The lawsuit charges that deploying dolphins at the Bangor base would be abusive treatment, and would violate several Federal statutes. There are also concerns that the use of dolphins for such activities would, in times of conflict, lead all dolphins to be looked upon as potential adversaries by divers, and accordingly injured or killed.
The plaintiffs further argue that bringing dolphins from the Gulf of Mexico to the icy waters of Puget Sound could prove fatal. The lawsuit cites as evidence the death of an Atlantic bottlenose dolphin in October 1988, 11 days after it had been transported to Washington State from the warmer waters of Hawaii.
Official records show that 13 of the dolphins enrolled in the US Navy's programme died between 1986 and 1988, at least five soon after being transported from one naval facility to another. Medical reports have revealed that nearly half of the dolphins stopped eating or suffered from stomach disorders.
Zico, the dolphin who died in the Persian Gulf, is a prime example. Dr
Brad Fenwick, a pathologist at Kansas State University under contract to
the Navy, believes stress may have contributed to Zico's eventual death
from disease. 'Stress can lower an animal's resistance and make it more
susceptible to infection,' he says. Dolphins may be stressed by such things
as over-training, working with a new trainer or moving to anew environment.