We, the undersigned, object to the US Navy’s use of dolphins in mine-hunting operations. We believe that the dolphins’ safety, freedom and dignity are at stake. We therefore clamor for the cessation of the Marine Mammals Program and urge the US Navy to fly the dolphins back for rehabilitation and release.
That US Air Force Major General Victor E. Renuart Jr. can with such sangfroid announce the US Navy’s deployment of trained dolphins in mine-hunting operations in the Persian Gulf must surely be a cause of outrage and shame for animal-lovers everywhere, not least in the United States, a country that is home to so many animal rights organizations and conservation groups.
Despite Navy officials’ claims that the dolphins are well taken care of and are not put in harm’s way, the public has reason to believe that the full story has not been told about the exploitation of marine mammals by the military.
Whatever one’s belief on the US–Iraq conflict, no member of a civilized society should condone the abuse and exploitation of dolphins for military purposes. Dolphins do not have unions, cannot speak up against abuse and unjust treatment and cannot demand better protection from their captors and trainers. They do not have informed consent or a choice as to whether to participate in naval exercises. Conscientious objectors are not recognized; neither are the dolphins’ rights to freedom and privacy.
Most dolphins are kidnapped for aquariums, academic centers and research and training facilities from their pods and families at sea by ‘aqua cowboys’ who use speedboats to corner a group of dolphins and net the young. Much of what we know about the training of dolphins of war is based on the testimonies of ex-Navy trainers. It has been reported that dolphins were beaten, kicked and starved as aids in training. There are also allegations that dolphins that have become old and of no use to the Navy any more were dumped at sea without proper rehabilitation. Those that escape often have muzzles on their snouts or rostrums that prevent them from eating. It would be naïve to assume that positive reinforcement is all it takes to train dolphins. Being wild animals, once they have had their fill of fish, dolphins are known to wander off-duty. Training dolphins would therefore be likely to involve a degree of punishment. In 1990, the use of dolphins to guard Trident submarine bases were challenged by animal rights groups. Official documents released at that time revealed that 13 had died in Navy hands, reinforcing the belief that gross mistreatment had taken place in the training of dolphins.
The use of dolphins of war by both the US and Russia has prompted Navy Lt. Commander Douglas Burnett to comment in 1981 that “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.” That dolphins had been destroyed in the past is an indication of the possibility that more dolphins could be harmed while in action today. Since the Iraqi forces regard the Navy dolphins as enemy dolphins, there might be attempts on the dolphins’ lives. There is also the risk of indiscriminate killing of wild dolphin populations because any dolphin can potentially be an enemy dolphin. Also, the inherent danger that a dolphin may be injured or killed in mine-hunting operations remains a very real threat. If the Navy is willing to admit that dolphins are used to circumvent the risk posed to expensive equipment and human divers, isn’t it an admission also that there are risks to dolphin lives? The US National Marine Fisheries Service has reported that Navy dolphin survival rates are 95–97%. However, the US Navy’s refusal to disclose the number of dolphins deployed in the Persian Gulf indicates a lack of transparency that is worrying to animal lovers and the public. The claim by Thomas LaPuzza, a spokesman at the Point Loma Submarine Base in San Diego that ‘the mines are a danger to ships, not to dolphins’, sounds implausible and raises even more fear that the dolphins are being sent on a suicide mission without their knowledge or consent.
Just as it is very objectionable to use domesticated companion animals such as police dogs in dangerous operations without affording them sufficient protection, it is also repulsive to civilized minds that dolphins are trained to risk their lives this way. Dolphins are not American citizens or employees and gain no benefit from participating in war. To pressgang them into participating in military operations is a patronizing move on the part of the US Navy. Such disregard for the lives and freedom of marine mammals whose populations are already threatened by pollution and poaching is tantamount to cruelty to animals by the US Navy.
Humans must remember that we have our roles to play in the web of life. Our place in nature is not as its master, but as one part of a whole. As concerned individuals, we therefore urge the US government to shut down the US Navy’s Marine Mammal Program. There’s been enough loss of lives already. Please don’t let dolphins be the next casualties of war.