Flipper Gets Drafted
The bottlenose dolphin has perhaps the most sophisticated
and accurate biosonar in the animal world.
That, along with the dolphins intelligence and natural affinity for
humans, are the reasons why the US Navy uses them to locate mines and other potentially dangerous objects.
They are also used to protect assets from swimmer attack: i.e., finding the enemy underwater and
doing something to him (or her). The
Navy claims that the dolphins only tag the swimmer with some tracking device,
and that the humans take over from there.
The Navy also uses California sea lions for essentially the
same jobs. The sea lions are used because they have exceptional hearing and
underwater eyesight and because they too are intelligent, easily trained, and like to work with humans.
The Navy dolphin and sea lion program is entitled The U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program. Its
run out of the Navy Space and Naval Warfare Center in San Diego. According to the Programs website, dolphins
and/or sea lions are currently deployed in eleven states and 13 countries.
The dolphins and seals have seen combat. The Navy is reported to have used them in
Viet Nam and in the Persian Gulf. The US may not be the only military using
marine mammals. Iraq reportedly obtained Russian military dolphins for
defensive/offensive purposes. There are also reports that Russian-trained
dolphins were sold to Iran and that they are trained to carry explosive charges
on their heads.
The Navy also has two beluga whales. It says the whales are now being used for
research and breeding purposes. There
are reports that the Navy originally used the whales to retrieve lost
experimental torpedoes and is now using them to test the effects of navy sonar
on marine mammals.
The Navy adamantly rejects any contention that its dolphins,
seals and whales are mistreated in any way.
The Navy states that its marine mammals live longer than any others in
captivity and are treated in accordance with all applicable laws.