Reuters is reporting today (March 26, 2003) that the U.S. Navy has sent a team specially trained Bottlenose Dolphins to the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr to scout out mines.

U.S. Navy Captain Mike Tillotson says that three or four dolphins will be working, using their natural echolocation* abilities to find mines and other underwater explosives.

"They were flown over on a military animal transporter in fleece-lined slings," Tillotson said. "We keep them in a certain amount of water. They travel very well. They will be given restaurant quality food and vitamins, and they will work out of wells which we've set up here."

Tillotson says the dolphins are trained to place a marker a small distance away from a mine, not to swim up to it minimizing any danger to themselves.

Fuzzy and Blue says one of the dolphins went AWOL.

Here's what PETA has to say about this (thanks to Bartleby for the heads up):

"Our troops deserve the best defense possible, but PETA opposes the use of dolphins, sea lions, or any other marine mammals. The project is cruel and cannot provide a reliable defense or surveillance for our troops. The Navy claims they are not putting these animals in harm's way, but they've removed these animals from their homes, relocated them to foreign waters in the Persian Gulf, and are forcing them to not only inspect the waters, but to actually swim up to potential terrorists under the water, clamp a cuff on their leg, and deploy a floating marker. How can anyone say these animals are not being put in harm's way?

The bottom line is that dolphins cannot provide a reliable defense. These are living beings with minds of their own, and though they are incredibly intelligent, they have no idea that lives will be lost if they fail to perform tasks properly. Yet, the military wants to rely on the actions of these animals in order to protect our troops. Our troops deserve the best defense possible and this isn't it. The animals and our troops deserve better."


* thanks to AstraJane for this correct term for biological sonar abilities

belgand tels me the USSR also maintained a military dolphin program that trained these marine mamals with bigger brains than ours to detect incoming frogmen.