U.S. Navy Trains Dolphins and Sea Lions to Detect Underwater Explosives

There are those who believe animals were put on Earth to serve mankind, whether it be by feeding us, performing hard and dangerous labor, or being subjects for “scientific” research.  Then there are those of us who believe we are the stewards of Earth and its animals. We feel we have an obligation to provide, and care for, sentient beings with the same respect we show humans.

So, for those somewhere in the middle — where do you draw the line?

Is it okay, for example, for a canine to be trained as a bomb sniffing dog to assist law enforcement?  Or how about the U.S. Navy’s Marine Mammal Program, which trains dolphins and sea lions to detect underwater explosives?

Working dogs are cared for by their handlers, live with their handlers and pretty much become family members.  But it’s a different story for marine mammals, who are wild animals, after all.  They are not domesticated animals happy to rest at our feet every night, or snack on our food scraps.  Their natural environment is the wide open sea, not a small pen filled with water.

The United States Navy has been studying the hydrodynamics of dolphins since the 1950′s in an attempt to engineer better submarine, torpedo and ship designs.  And the Navy trains dolphins and sea lions to locate sea mines, which are then removed. Dolphins have a biological sonar detecting ability called echolocation that makes them better qualified than humans to find underwater mines.  

The Navy uses sea lions in their Object Recovery System because humans are limited in underwater searching due to the depth distance a diver can safely go, poor visibility issues and a higher need for surface support during these excursions.  Sea lions, who are trained to locate and attach hardware to underwater objects for retrieval, don’t have the limitations humans do in the ocean.  They can dive to depths much deeper than humans, with no need for time-consuming decompression.

So, is this a good thing or a bad thing?  The Navy states these marine mammals are not used to kill people, and are not put in harm’s way during their assigned duties.  The Pentagon calls these mammals “Sentinels of the Sea” as described in the video below.

Further investigation into the U.S. Navy’s Marine Mammal Program finds that the mammals are not penned up in captivity for their entire lives, like those at amusement parks.  The work marine mammals perform for the military is done in the open sea. The mammals are actually trained to return to port after an evening spent in the open ocean.  Sea mammals are no longer taken from the wild because the Navy has developed a marine mammal breeding program, which enables them to better train the animals.  

It should also be noted that the long term goal of the U.S. Navy is to discontinue this Marine Mammal Program once machines are developed that match the unique abilities of the dolphins and sea lions.

The tragic death of Orca trainer, Dawn Brancheau, at Sea World this past February validates the need to end marine mammals kept in captivity for the entertainment of humans. But is the U.S. Navy treating the marine mammals they work with better than places like Sea World, where wild animals are kept in bathtub sized pools?

Is training wild marine mammals to jump through hoops for the entertainment of humans, comparable to training sea mammals to work in the open sea for military purposes?  Is it any different than training domesticated dogs to sniff out explosives?

Comment below and let us know what you think…




photo credit: U.S. Navy


Jonathan Y.
Jonathan Y7 years ago

The fact that the Navy treats these animals better than Seaworld is not surprising; Seaworld is horrible.

Still, it's a shame we have to use animals at all in war. What's their stake in it? None!

Shraddha Jadhav
Shraddha J7 years ago

I LOVE DOLPHINS but i think its wrong to make them serve in a war.

Jennifer Johnson
Jennifer Johnson7 years ago

I think that no animal should be used for this. It is the people who start thee wars that should be put in harms way. Maybe then they will learn not to start these wars!

Tammy Smith
T Zabel7 years ago

Leave our animals ALONE

pj dickenson
pj dickenson7 years ago

It wasn't pretty but you know what I meant...

pj dickenson
pj dickenson7 years ago

OKAY, first noted, I wIll NEVER supprt dolphin assistance "programs". And Savannah,(?) the problem lies in that "dumb" and defenseless "animals, should not be the solution to stupid human error???!!

Jane L.
Jane L7 years ago

My intuition indicates that this is wrong as well. I am relieved to find that my thots are in alignment with many of you who think this way as well. If they're breeding and training newborn dolphins, I don't see how the "temporary" use of these animals are going to subside any time soon. Moreover, these animals may appear to be perfectly healthy, but how do you assess their psychological and emotional well-being or have they even assessed this aspect? No mention was made in this regard of their livelihood.

Philippa P.
Philippa P7 years ago


Jade Ashton Scully

These animals are being put in danger as a result of human's stupidity, selfishness and disregard for other species...The navy should do the job themselves!

Gaby Micallef-trigona

This is ciminal.