Dolphins are marine mammals which inhabit mild and temperate seas worldwide (Britannica). They are known for their intelligence and unique method of communication, using sounds and ultrasonic pulses to associate with their kind. This system of echolocation makes them suitable to aid marines in the location of underwater mines (MMP website). The specific characteristics of dolphins and other marine animals has lead to the development of the Marine Mammal Program, which is a navy research, training and employment project for the use of mammals in the marine forces. As any other interaction which implies use of animals for human needs, the role of dolphins in the navy is a disputed issue with many viewpoints.
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The use of dolphins for military purposes was pioneered by engineer and physicist James Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald formulated the idea of using dolphins in warfare based on his knowledge of the mammals’ sonar. He went on to conduct research with the support of the CIA. Via his Morse code – like method of communication with the animals, he discovered that there was indeed reason to believe that they could be trained for naval use. Their intelligence, trainability, and swimming precision combined with their method of sonar communication would make them perfect helpers to the marine operations. As a result of the findings of the researcher, dolphins were already being used in 1965 (Holley, 2006).
Today the use of dolphins for naval purposes is a developed practice based on experience and scientific knowledge. The Marine Mammal Program has incorporated the use of a number of species; however its primary “helpers” are bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). This species is the one we think of when we hear the name dolphin. It possesses all the necessary characteristics required for training and use by the marines. Bottle nose dolphins are especially playful and inhabit the waters of Hawaii which makes them both accessible and easy to work with (Gardner).
The dolphins enrolled in the program are involved in protecting ports and assets from swimmer attack, finding and attaching recovery hardware to targets, and locating potentially dangerous sea mines. (MMP website) The sonar of dolphins helps to track objects in the water and is much more effective and useful than any other man-made sonar device. The animals are usually trained to perform specific tasks, dubbed systems, but may be taught to carry out various activities. Human trainers usually work alongside the dolphins and ensure that the tasks are being carried out effectively.
The use of marine mammals in navy operations has caused its share of controversy and raised a number of questions as to the humaneness of these practices. The first and foremost concern about the use of marine mammals is that they are in fact wild animals. In the website of the MMP dolphins and sea lions are compared to search dogs. Although this comparison may reflect the duties and usefulness of the animals, it misses a crucial point, dogs and dolphins are hardly of the same background. Many adversaries of the idea ask whether it is ethical to train wild animals for human purposes. Do we as humans have the right to take animals out of their natural habitat in order to convert them into tools for our advantage and if so what happens when a surplus of animals arises? Such a problem arose in the after the cold war, when were cutbacks to the program. A reintroduction program was too costly and the marines had to care for the redundant animals until their death. (PBS Frontline. The Story of Navy Dolphins)
Another ethical matter arising from the use of dolphins in the navy is their physical well-being. The mine tracking performed by bottle noses is not a threat, because the animals are not big enough to activate the devices, but the employment of animals in hazardous situations as well as the way in which they are trained are both sensitive issues. Although it is claimed that the training practices used when preparing dolphins for their duties are harmless, animal right protectionists are concerned about what goes on behind closed doors. There is no way of ensuring that no mistreatment of animals goes on during the training, which makes it difficult to support the practice without reservations.
Physical harm which may come to the animals while fulfilling their duties is another potential danger. Dolphins may die or be injured during war time or in other dangerous situations. The mammals might be more efficient and effective in carrying out the tasks, but this is at the price of putting them in harm’s way. Whether the damage is caused by injury or release of the dolphins in an unsuitable environment, it is equally likely to occur.
In conclusion it may be said that the use of dolphins as help to the navy is a big step in the connection between animals and people. The established system works for the benefit of the marines and is meant to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the animals. Although the utility and efficiency of the marine mammals is undoubted there are many concerns when dealing with animal helpers, and especially with those of wild origin. —————————————————————————–
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