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Soundings Archive

Flipper Gets Drafted
The bottlenose dolphin has perhaps the most sophisticated and accurate biosonar in the animal world.  That, along with the dolphin’s 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. [1]

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.” It’s run out of the Navy Space and Naval Warfare Center in San Diego.  According to the Program’s website, dolphins and/or sea lions are currently deployed in eleven states and 13 countries. [2]

The dolphins and seals have seen combat.  The Navy is reported to have used them in Viet Nam and in the Persian Gulf.[3]  The US may not be the only military using marine mammals. Iraq reportedly obtained Russian “military” dolphins for defensive/offensive purposes.[4]  There are also reports that Russian-trained dolphins were sold to Iran and that they are trained to carry explosive charges on their heads.[5]

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. [6]

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. [7]

[1]           See reports at here and here.

[2]           See map.

[3]           See reports  here and here.

[4]           See report.

[5]           See report.

[6]           See report.

[7]           See Navy statements.

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