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Ensign Flipper? Dolphins in the U.S. Navy
January 14, 2012 8:50 PM   Subscribe

The U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program has been training the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) and the California sea lion (Zalophus californianus) in mine and swimmer detection for many years. (The program was declassified in the 1990s.) Military dolphins were used in the first and second Gulf Wars, and there are rumors they are deployed in the Gulf today. These animals could be important if Iran blockades the Hormuz Strait as threatened.
posted by blob (31 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
They're supposedly very intelligent...although I've never seen any evidence of it.
well, maybe in one scene...
posted by Winnemac at 9:07 PM on January 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dolphins Deployed As Undersea Agents in Iraq NatGeo, 2003.

European Cetacean Bycatch Campaign page on military sea mammals.

Nature's Military Draft Wired UK

The Navy Is Depending On Dolphins To Keep The Strait of Hormuz Open, The Atlantic Wire, with the same dolphin picture that is always used.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:12 PM on January 14, 2012


They're supposedly very intelligent...although I've never seen any evidence of it.

“Man has always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much...the wheel, New York, wars and so on...while all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man...for precisely the same reason.” - Douglas Adams
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:13 PM on January 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


Thanks to the repeal of DADT, this dolphin won't get in trouble for kissing his S.O. good bye before leaving on an assignment.
posted by planet at 9:18 PM on January 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


For a movie in which George C. Scott has his dolphin stolen by evil government agents for purposes of blowing up the president, Day of the Dolphin was actually pretty good.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 9:25 PM on January 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I always knew this was a documentary.
posted by pjern at 9:44 PM on January 14, 2012


> For a movie in which George C. Scott has his dolphin stolen by evil government agents for purposes of blowing up the president, Day of the Dolphin was actually pretty good.

I gotta spoil that one because I found it so terrible, but Scott taught the dolphins to speak. Not deciphered their communication or found a bridge. No, the little guy would actually vocalize like a toddler. In English.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:53 PM on January 14, 2012


"What's that, Flipper? Timmy's been trapped in littoral waters by Iranian gunboats? Can you take us there? Go, Flipper! We'll follow you!"
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:55 PM on January 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


Brin* me proof!

*not a typo
posted by sourwookie at 9:56 PM on January 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


My God, is there anything we can't desecrate these days?
posted by The Hyacinth Girl at 9:59 PM on January 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


My God, is there anything we can't desecrate these days?

Bomb toting dogs were in use use much earlier. When has war not been horrific?
posted by sourwookie at 10:04 PM on January 14, 2012


Yeah, "desecrate" is not really the word I would use, unless I thought dolphins were temples or something. But, contrary to rumors of them being taught to be kamikaze torpedos or frogmen killers, I would wager that their safe return is a priority for their handlers. It takes a ton of effort to train them.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:09 PM on January 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Clearly Iran will fight these dolphins off using sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads.
posted by delmoi at 10:18 PM on January 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


My God, is there anything we can't desecrate these days?

The military has been using dolphins for military purposes for decades. In fact, they actually sponsored a lot of the early research on them in the 1960s.
posted by delmoi at 10:19 PM on January 14, 2012


I had half-hazy recollections of a story about military-trained dolphins with dart guns escaping during the flooding of Hurricane Katrina, but snopes says that's probably not true. A shame, that was one of the most perfectly Transmetropolitan-esque newsblurbs that could exist.
posted by FatherDagon at 10:33 PM on January 14, 2012


On the theme of animals used in military operations, supposedly in the tenth century Olga of Kiev destroyed a city with pigeons. Her army laid siege to the city and requested that each household give her a "peace offering" of three pigeons, then she had her soldiers tie smoldering embers to the legs of the birds and release them. The birds flew back home, lighting everything on fire, and it all burned to the ground.

See also Project Acoustic Kitty.
posted by XMLicious at 10:35 PM on January 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


From the U.S. Navy Mammal Program FAQ:

Does the Navy train its dolphins for offensive warfare, including attacks on ships and human swimmers or divers? No. The Navy does not now train, nor has it ever trained, its marine mammals to harm or injure humans in any fashion or to carry weapons to destroy ships. [...] The animals are trained to detect, locate, and mark all mines or all swimmers in an area of interest or concern...

Yeah, I'm calling bullshit on that one. A small special operations taskforce should be able to account for all friendly divers. Even if it's true that the animals can't distinguish between friend and foe (it probably is, but I could imagine a technological solution e.g. personal low-power sonar identifiers), they could still be weaponized while all friendly divers are out of the water. The "marking" apparatus is probably a kind of triggered cuffing mechanism that locks onto a limb. It's not such a stretch to substitute an explosive in place of the transponder. This is the military we're talking about.

Bomb toting dogs

Huh, I recently saw a grainy old battlefield clip of a soldier sitting with a vested dog for a moment, petting it, and then sending it away into a field. It blew up at about 100 yards. I figured that it was WWII from the period film quality and clothing, but your link confirms it.
posted by troll at 11:09 PM on January 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Actually, the U.S. Navy has had this capability since WWII.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 11:32 PM on January 14, 2012


LET SLIP THE DOLPHINS OF WAR!
posted by GIFtheory at 11:34 PM on January 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


Clearly Iran will fight these dolphins off using sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads.

Look, Mahmoud...umm...well, it turns out those sharks you wanted were on the endangered list. It'll be really hard to get them anytime soon. So, we got you some...uh...seabass. Ill-tempered seabass, for sure.
posted by jimmythefish at 11:57 PM on January 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


A Mind in the Water: The dolphin as our beast of burden
posted by homunculus at 12:11 AM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


My high school shop teacher was a maine biologist who resigned from the Navy because they wanted him to train dolphins to deliver mines. I don't think I've ever respected any man more than him.
posted by clarknova at 12:28 AM on January 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


My family lived in the Florida Keys in the early 90s, and a family friend trained dolphins there for the Navy. One time, he took me and my brother (who were 10 and 12 at the time) to see "his" dolphin, named McKae. We were thrilled as we took the bucket of fish down to where the dolphin pens were on the beach.

Our Navy friend taught us the different hand signs that were used to get McKae to do different "tricks"; jumping out of the water, etc. Each time he obeyed, our friend told us, we had to feed him a fish as a reward. We had fun giving the different hand signs, then feeding him fish when he jumped, or flipped. Eventually, though, we ran out of fish.

My brother, being 10, continued to command McKae to perform tricks with no fish. McKae obeyed, of course, but he could see that there were no fish left. After doing this for a little while McKae got tired of it. He jumped into the air towards my brother, nipped him on the arm ever-so-slightly breaking the skin, and then dropped back into the water after airing his protest. My brother did not request any more tricks without fish.

Thinking back, I'm still absolutely amazed at the precision with which McKae was able to nip my brother's arm. This is an animal weighing hundreds of kilos, jumping out of the water, without great eyesight. My brother was a little traumatized. Of course, as his big brother, I thought it was awesome.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 1:36 AM on January 15, 2012 [12 favorites]


The Porcine Underwater Breathing Apparatus, or PUBA, is a Scuba for pigs, so that they can be test subjects for massively intense low frequency sound attacks. [pdf1, pdf2].
posted by stonepharisee at 2:43 AM on January 15, 2012


Just wait until these dolphins urinate in the same water as their dead opponents.
posted by srboisvert at 4:30 AM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Pigs have had it bad for millenia.
posted by vanar sena at 4:44 AM on January 15, 2012


Keep teaching 'em, fuckers. Just wait until they rise up and use that knowledge against us. There's no cetacean like a pissed off cetacean.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:43 AM on January 15, 2012


My high school shop teacher was a maine biologist who resigned from the Navy because they wanted him to train dolphins to deliver mines. I don't think I've ever respected any man more than him.

And, um, there were no non-mine delivering jobs for marine biologists? I'm sorry to be the one to break this to you but I think your high school shop teacher was pulling your legs.
posted by yoink at 12:13 PM on January 15, 2012


I'm just gonna go ahead and leave this here.
posted by kcds at 5:33 PM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I liked it when the dolphin shot Bin Laden in the face with a laser.
posted by Burhanistan at 5:35 PM on January 15, 2012


Met these guys once, or a group of them, at least, in Corpus Christi. An odd mix of ex-Sea World trainers-become-military contractors, Navy NCOs and Army veterinarians. Pretty cagey; didn't want to talk a whole lot.

Talkative or not, they invited us to dive with them (like, in the same vicinity as them). The dolphins were there to do a mine-hunting exercise.

The water was pretty murky, and I could just see of one of my guys getting speared in the back by a dolphin. We had other things to do anyway, so we passed.

My overall impression was that the dolphin program is yet another of the sexy dead-ends that the military likes to drop bucks on when they're getting a lot of money. Kind of like those walking robot "mules"; interesting, but ultimately, not very effective.
posted by atchafalaya at 7:26 PM on January 15, 2012


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