Military Dolphins

Two coastal cities, San Diego and Sevastopol, one in California, the other on the Crimean coast in what was the Soviet Union and then the Ukraine and now is Russia. In each, the military has trained dolphins to help fight wars.

The dolphin pens near San Diego Naval Base (

The dolphin pens near San Diego Naval Base (

You may remember hearing about the San Diego unit long ago in the ’60s. The training there and in Sevastopol never stopped, though it was winding down in the Ukraine until last month when Russia got it back.

The Soviet, then the Ukrainian, and now the Russian  navy have trained dolphins at Sevastopol (

The Soviet, then the Ukrainian, and now the Russian
navy have trained dolphins at Sevastopol (

Trained in San Diego, bottlenose dolphins helped the US military in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf Wars. Those trained in Sevastopol – well, we don’t know if or when they were used.

Of course it is remains difficult to know what is true, but for whatever it means, the New York Times, The Wire and Izvestia at least agree on what is now happening.

It appears the two groups of dolphins may, if not meet, at least soon share the same piece of ocean for a while. The US is bringing some to the Black Sea for ‘NATO exercises’. The Sevastopol contingent, a couple of months ago headed for retirement or more likely continued labor in aquarium shows, will get renewed training by the Russian navy in the same Sea.

Dolphin in training, Sevastopol (

Dolphin in training, Sevastopol (

What on Earth are we doing?

We don’t know much about most species of dolphins, but we know quite a lot about bottlenose. We know they are intelligent, curious, social, and sexually very active. And we know they are very alien, relative to ourselves, in how they relate to each other, how they communicate, what they communicate, how and if they think, what and if they think of us, and what and how they feel.

Despite some heart warming stories of how they protect swimmers, they are not our friends and we are not theirs, no matter how much some of us really want them to be.

We have used animals, mainly horses, to help us in warfare for a long time. Dolphins are different.

We send them off as if they were independent parts of our military teams to set explosives, clear mines, and do possibly other nefarious things that are very hard to prove. They are trained to do stuff surreptitiously that our own divers are not strong or swift or crazy enough to do.

Another one in training in San Diego (

Another one in training in San Diego (

This really should stop. We can kill each other perfectly well and efficiently without making dolphins do it for us. We also can’t just toss them back into the wild when they’re no longer needed. Perhaps they don’t fare much worse than many of our human war veterans, but they are not us. They simply shouldn’t be involved.

Our militaries rationalize the situation by saying the dolphins live long as captives and appear to be happy, but surely we know all too well how absurd those words really are.

Instead, we need to leave them alone, and let them live their own lives in whatever ways they naturally do. They have plenty to cope with in our deteriorating ocean ecosystems without having to endure slavery.

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