For thousands of years, man has exploited animals and used
them to wage war against others. Horses, elephants and even dogs have been
drafted in the service when the need has arisen. Yet dolphins are being
abused in a particularly invidious way. Armed with explosives, trained
to seek out enemy mines and vessels and to destroy them, dolphins are being
trained by both the American and Russian navies. This is surely one of
the most sadistic displays of man's humanity to man - and to dolphin.
Dolphins were there in the murky waters of Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam. Dolphins were trained to speed towards a Vietnamese frogman and skew him with a lance strapped to its beak. In the Persian Gulf War a team of dolphins dive deep into the ocean and use their complex echolocation to hunt down stray torpedoes and detect enemy mines. This is the reality of the dolphins of war, trained by the US Navy to seek and destroy.
The US Navy started its work with dolphins in the late 1950's
when research was geared towards analysing the dolphins hydrodynamics and
sonar. The dolphins were poked, prodded and put through rigorous testing
to discover how they could swim at high speeds for long periods of time.
The Navy hoped it could learn from the dolphins to improve its own vessels.
The Navy also carried out a wide variety of experiments to determine whether
dolphins could be trained to locate and retrieve "lost" objects
from the seabed using its sonar. They wanted to use dolphins to replace
expensive electronic equipment and human divers.
In the early 1960's, the work of John C. Lilly and other scientists investigating dolphin communication and intelligence alerted the navy that dolphins possessed intelligence second only to man's and they had the ability to learn tasks quickly and efficiently. The Navy then started "secret" dolphin research but early reports of these plans quickly leaked out and people were appalled by the suggestion that cetaceans could be exploited in such a way. However the navy went on with the program and ahead with training.
From 1960 to 1989, the US Navy is known to have employed 240 dolphins. They include atlantic bottlenose dolphins, pacific white-sided dolphins, belugas, killer whales, pilot whales, false killer whales and even sea lions. The first and most famous navy dolphim was Notty, a pacific white-sided dolphin that was enlisted by an aquarium in Los Angeles, California. She was in to small of a tank for in-depth experiments to take place so they moved her to the Office of Naval Research at Point Mugu, CA. The navy collected other dolphins and subjected them to a battery of rigorous tests in order to learn more about their sensory systems, sonar and aquatic ergonomics.
(Above a California sea lion employed by the Navy puts a
tagging device on a "lost" missile.) The main goal was to train
dolphins to retrieve ultimately for more sinister purposes. From 1965 to
1969 a dolphin trainer for the navy used acoustic signals to give commands
to the dolphins and of course fish for rewards. The animals would retrieve
mines quickly and more effiently than navy divers. The dolphins are not
free to choose whether they want to be involved in such activies.
Marine mammal trainers that have worked with navy dolphins in the past went public in 1988 about how the Navy dolphins are used and trained. It has been said by many ex-navy trainers that the dolphins have been beaten, kicked and otherwise mistreated. Some even say dolphins that became to old or no use to the Navy anymore were dumped at sea without being rehabilitated. Twenty percent of the dolphins escape each year many still with muzzles on their snouts or rostrums that prevent them from eating. Dolphins have escaped into the Pacific. They are being turned into Kamikaze torpedoes, or trained to attach magnetic explosives to the bottom of enemy ships. Dolphins are also being trained in the swimmer nullification program, where a long, hollow hypodermic needle is placed over the snout of the dolphin for injecting compressed CO² into the enemy frogmen, the pressurized gas forcing the frogman's internal organs out of his body orifices.
One dolphin which captures the interest of the media at the
time was Tuf Guy, also known as Tuffy, who was involved in a project at
Sealab II in La Jolla, California. Tuffy was trained to carry tools and
messages between the laboratory above ground and the underwater base and
was able to undertake tasks that were physically impossible for human divers.
In 1987, the US Navy airlifted six Pacific bottlenose dolphins to the Persian Gulf where they were used for underwater surveillance and to detect mines and missiles. Although these operations were "top secret" at the time, Navy officials have now admitted that dolphins were present in both Vietnam and Persian Gulf war.
The US Navy now has at least 130 dolphins and a number of other marine mammals at its main bases in Hawaii, San Diego and Key West. The dolphins are caught by one of the largest dolphin-catchers called Marine Mammal Productions Inc. (MAP) in Gulfport, Mississippi and then brought to Seaco Inc. in San Diego where they recieve basic training. From here they are dispatched to the naval bases for intensive training. Dolphin experts now say that Navy research is now focused on using the dolphins for their echolocation to detect long-range nuclear missiles, and there is a growing fear that the Russians, who have also exploited dolphins abilities for warfare purposes may use the animals to counter-attack the Americans. All this has led the US Navy to investigate devices which can jam the sonar of these "enemy dolphins" to protect its own interests. There are fears that the military deployment of dolphins will escalate and there is already evidence that the Navy has invested $1 million into expanding its marine mammal research program. Below a dolphin carrys a mine searching system that detects and marks the location of mines on the ocean bottom. Like the Navy, dolphins use sonar. Dolphins are also capable of making repeated deep dives without experiencing "the bends" or decompression sickness as do human divers. This capability would make dolphins valuable assistants to Navy divers working in the open ocean.
The Navy has spent $30 million on its dolphin program during the Reagon Administration and that was money down the drain. The use of dolphins for war has the potential to put wild dolphin populations at risk. This operation can lead to the indiscriminate killing of dolphins. If both the US and Russia are deploying dolphins for defense purposes, then any that happen to be unfortunate enough to be in an area where there is naval activity, run the risk of being killed - who's to know whose side there on?
Even naval staff have commented on the dilemma presented by deploying dolphin weapon systems. In 1981, Navy Lt. Commander Douglas Burnett wrote: "In a hostile confrontation, both sides will have to consider dolphins as potential enemy biosensors or weapons. In some situations, there may be no choice but to destroy dolphins or any marine mammal presenting a similar threat...it may be a sound decision to protect shipping...by poisoning the surrounding waters to remove the threat of dolphin attacks, which would, coincidentally, remove a sizeable proportion of the area's ecology." Using dolphins for such warlike purposes has also created another problem. The Navy has admitted that some of its dolphins have permanently escaped from captivity. This raises the question, what potentially dangerous and offensive behavior might such an escaped dolphin exhibit when encountering an innocent recreational diver? The answer is most likely nothing at all. In the United States a dolphin named Dolly that escaped from the US Navy training program became close friends with the Asbury family in southern Florida. She became particularly close to the mother Jean and learned many tricks and games. A notable trick she learned was retrieving dimes from the water and returning them to Jean. Several different coins were thrown into the water but Dolly was only to return the dimes. Being in the Navy training program Dolly was already use to human contact and sought out futher interactions. Never did Dolly try to hurt the Asbury family or anyone else.
(Above common dolphins speed through the water like living "torpedoes".)
Recent cutbacks following the collaspe of the Soviet Union have forced
the training facilities in Hawaii and Florida to close. The entire program
now operates in San Diego. Gentle, intelligent, wild animals like the dolphins
will always be wild and never domesticated like a dog or horse and should
not be used for war purposes. The Navy has also used dolphins to guard
nuclear arsenals but being wild animals once they've had there fill of
fish they are known to wander off duty. No animal wild or domesticated
should be used for these purposes. Would you like dolphins guarding weapons
or ships? Vote at the bottom if you think the military should or shouldn't
Orcas in the Navy