With tensions rising as Iran continues to threaten the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf, the Navy has a way to keep the strategic Strait of Hormuz open. The answer? Dolphins.
As a report in The Atlantic details, the Navy has "a solution that isn't heavily-advertised but has a time-tested success rate: mine-detecting dolphins":
"We've got dolphins," said retired Adm. Tim Keating in a Wednesday interview with NPR. Keating commanded the U.S. 5th Fleet in Bahrain during the run-up to the Iraq war. He sounded uncomfortable with elaborating on the Navy's use of the lovable mammals but said in a situation like the standoff in Hormuz, Navy-trained dolphins would come in handy:
KEATING: They are astounding in their ability to detect underwater objects.
NPR's TOM BOWMAN: Dolphins were sent to the Persian Gulf as part of the American invasion force in Iraq.
KEATING: I'd rather not talk about whether we used them or not. They were present in theater.
BOWMAN: But you can't say whether you used them or not.
KEATING: I'd rather not.
The invasion of Iraq was the last time the minesweeping capability of dolphins was widely-touted. "Dolphins - - which possess sonar so keen they can discern a quarter from a dime when blindfolded and spot a 3-inch metal sphere from 370 feet away -- are invaluable minesweepers," reported the San Francisco Chronicle. In 2010, the Seattle Times reported that the Navy has 80 bottlenose dolphins in the San Diego Bay alone. They are taught to hunt for mines and drop acoustic transponders nearby. The photo above shows a dolphin with a tracking device attached to its fin. According to a report in 2003, the dolphins only detect the mines. Destroying them is left up to the Navy's human divers. Still, the mammals are large enough to detonate a live mine, a prospect that doesn't delight animal rights groups.
"We're not going to second-guess the Navy at a time of war," Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist with the Humane Society, told the Chronicle in 2003. "But we don't support the use of marine mammals for military use."
Animal rights groups said they don't place the lives of dolphins above humans, but do question the ethics of placing them in hostile waters. Petitions sent to the Department of Defense have protested "the very real threat" of harm to the animals, either from a mine-related injury or from being regarded as "enemy dolphins" by anti-U.S. forces.
In 2003, a spokesman for the San Diego-based Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center sought to put quell fears about how dolphins are treated in the Navy. Dolphins are reliable and trustworthy animals by nature, Tom LaPuzza said, and seem to enjoy pleasing their human handlers. When they're released into the ocean for missions, "they come back to the handler, the trainer" ashore or on a ship, he said.
The renewed dolphin discussion comes as the Navy revealed Friday that two U.S. ships in and near the Persian Gulf were harassed by Iranian speedboats last week, the Associated Press reported.
The Obama administration has been vague about what specifically it would do if Iran were to make good on its threat to block the strait. Earlier this month, Iran's army chief warned an aircraft carrier not to return to the Gulf.
"We have to make sure we are ready for any situation and have all options on the table," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday in response to a soldier's question about the overall risk of war with Iran, according to an AP report.
Diplomats this week also confirmed Iran has begun uranium enrichment in an underground bunker, and the assassination of an Iranian nuclear expert has prompted those in the country to vow revenge against the U.S. and Israel. Iran claimed Saturday it has evidence the CIA was behind the scientist's killing. The U.S. has denied any involvement.
(h/t Drudge Report)