How can dolphins disarm sea mines?

Is dolphin mine-finding inhumane?
The stress endured during transport could weaken a dolphin's immune system.
The stress endured during transport could weaken a dolphin's immune system.
Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

As amazing as it is that we can train dolphins to save the lives of U.S. sailors, the thought of sending animals to find deadly mines strikes many people as inherently unethical.

The Navy argues, however, that the mine-hunting process is much safer for the dolphins than it may sound. Dolphins aren't trained to get close to a mine, but rather sense it from a safe distance (which their powerful sonar skill allows them to do). The Navy also is quick to point out that were the dolphins to get close to the mine, it wouldn't explode. Mines aren't built to detonate when disturbed by marine life, but rather by large, heavy ships. If natural underwater creatures could detonate a mine, the mine would explode soon after being planted, rendering it useless as a weapon against enemy ships.

Nevertheless, animal rights groups still find fault with the process. To get dolphins to the potentially mine-infested waters, the Navy must transport them. This transportation process, which involves carrying dolphins within slings in tanks during a long airplane ride, may be devastating for the animals [source: Squatriglia]. The stress endured could weaken the dolphins' immune systems.

Not only must the dolphins face a rough ride, but once they get there, the environment they face could bring them discomfort. Upon hearing that the Navy planned to bring their dolphins to the cold waters off Washington state, one animal rights group strongly objected, and as a campaign to gain public attention, started knitting sweaters for the dolphins. Yet another concern is that the dolphins might get lost. In the end, many animal activists question: Is it ever OK to use innocent creatures, who are completely ignorant of the danger involved, in war?

The Navy claims the dolphins are well taken care of. Here, a handler brushes the dolphin's teeth.
Brien Aho/U.S. Navy/Getty Images

Responding to such accusations, the Navy stands firm that the dolphins are well cared for. It claims that staff veterinarians nurture the dolphins diligently and are on call at all times.

Flip to the next page to find links to related subjects, as well as a link to a U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program video.


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