European Cetacean Bycatch banner loading

"Man is but a strand in the complex web of life"

Internal links buttons



Dolphins did not volunteer for war animal rights activists say
Marc Morano
Senior Staff Writer -


Animal rights activists are blasting the U.S. Navy for its use of mine-detecting dolphins in the war with Iraq because, according to the activists, the marine mammals "have not volunteered" to be part of the war.

Stephanie Boyles, a wildlife biologist with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), said the use of dolphins to sweep for mines in Iraq is "just ridiculous."

"These are animals that, number one, have not volunteered to take part in this whatsoever. Number two, they are being put in harm's way...when they don't even know they are in harm's way," Boyles told

"There have been already enough victims in this world. We don't have to start adding other species to it," Boyles added.

Frank Gaffney, president of the Washington-based Center for Security Policy and a former assistant secretary of defense for international security policy under President Ronald Reagan, defended the use of the dolphins.

"My personal priority would be to save human lives and most especially American lives. If the dolphins can do so, hopefully at minimal risks to themselves and at great benefit to us, that seems to me to be a proper rendering of the priorities," Gaffney said.

Atlantic bottle-nosed dolphins were scheduled to arrive in the southern Iraqi port of Umm Qasr on Tuesday and were to be used for their natural sonar abilities to search the Iraqi coastline for hidden mines before humanitarian aid ships docked. Dolphins have a four-decades-long history of assisting the U.S. Navy.

U.S. Navy Captain Mike Tillotson told reporters in Iraq that the dolphins are trained to place a marker near any detected mines and avoid getting too close to the mines.

'Minds of Their Own'

But PETA believes animals should not play any role in the war with Iraq.

"Why are we spending time trying to train animals that have lives and minds of their own to try and carry out these tasks for us? That just seems a little archaic, not to mention unreliable," Boyles explained.

Boyles believes the use of dolphins to detect the presence of mines may cost lives because the dolphins may think the whole effort is a game.

"They have minds of their own; they don't realize the tasks they are being taught to perform are life and death. And when they don't perform correctly, human lives will be lost," predicted Boyles.

"[The dolphins] think this is a game, and yet the risk to their lives and the amount of suffering they may endure is great, and we don't seem to care about that," she added.

The animal "rights" activists are also concerned about the possible negative methods the U.S. military has used to train the dolphins.

"That's our great fear, that they are using negative reinforcement in order to train these animals," Boyles said.

"They are certainly not disclosing to us how they are training these animals," she added.

Boyles wanted to make it clear that PETA is in solidarity with America's fighting forces in Iraq.

"We support our troops. We have friends over there as well, and we believe they deserve the very best defense possible," Boyles said.


But scores of dolphins swimming in Iraq's harbors and waterways are not going to give America's soldiers that defense, according to Boyles.

"[Dolphins] are not a good choice for the military, it's just ridiculous, and for them to try to convince the American public otherwise is abominable," she said.

Naomi A. Rose, a marine mammal scientist with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), said the animal "rights" group was "concerned about the welfare" of the dolphins but declined to denounce the use of them during wartime.

"As we have in the past, we will continue to express our concerns to the Navy and Congress about the military use of marine mammals, but while the war continues, we remain focused on the welfare of all those in the combat zone - human and animal," Rose told

Calls to the U.S. Navy regarding the concerns about the dolphins were not returned.

Click here to send a Letter to the Editor of about this article.