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Captain Flipper: Dolphins And Their Role In The Navy

animal on the water

Recently, the United States of America celebrated 224 years of being a free nation. A large part of that is a thanks to our Armed Forces, whether human or not. But while most people associate animals in the Armed Forces with dogs and horses, the Navy has employed some familiar faces we see off our coastlines.

 Since 1960, the US Navy had been training marine animals in hopes of carrying out a variety of tasks; in addition to simply testing out each animal’s own biological and sensory abilities. Alongside sea lions, bottlenose dolphins are very intelligent, tough, and trainable. A National Geographic article harked on this further by citing a demonstration in 2011 where dolphins were able to detain a Navy SEAL infiltrating the harbor five times (Lee, 2019). Along side these reasons, the dolphins’ incredible echolocation and swimming abilities enable them to be much better assets than man-made sonars or human divers ever could (Ismay, 2019).  Since then, the Navy Marine Mammal Program located in San Diego Bay has been training bottlenose dolphins to serve in the Armed Forces, with 75 serving back in 2018 (Milzarski, 2018).

Even though they’re not mentioned in the history books, dolphins have been involved in a number of famous wars such as the Vietnam war defending Army ammunition (Milzarski, 2018) and clear mines from the Persian Gulf during the US invasion if Iraq (Bienaimé, 2015). Most tasks often given to bottlenose dolphins include locating mines; recovering objects (even humans) in a variety of environments; and guarding or surveying areas. There are potentially other reasons such as planting mines and even killing, but the U.S. Navy has denies that any of their dolphins are trained in killing and other threatening tasks such as kamikaze, poison darts, and sonar jamming (“Dolphins In Defence”, 2019).

Much like the ones in aquariums, dolphins live in pens near the docks of the base and are trained using a variety of hand signals and whistles as well as being provided a selective diet and positive encouragement (Ismay, 2019). Veterinarians and marine biologists are also on standby for any health care needs (“Dolphins In Defence”, 2019).

While this initially seems like these marine mammals are solely being used for military purposes, there are some scientific benefits that arise as well. According to the Naval Information Warefare Center website, the NMMP has produced at least 1500 research papers regarding marine mammals ranging from the physical to the psychological (“U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program” (n.d.).

There is much controversy regarding the use of marine animals of animals in general in the military. Founder of Dolphin Project Ric O’Barry says along with sending dolphins into war zones instigated by humans, there are also the numerous psychological and physical harm dolphin can sustain while in training, captivity, or in war. There is also speculation on even needing marine mammals in the future given the rapid advancements in technology (“U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program” (n.d.).

Regardless of where one stands, these dolphins continue to be great soldiers in the Navy and prove that red, white, and blue will stand above and below the waves.

Courtney Dreyfus – Intern at Cape May Whale Watch and Research Center

Stockton University ’20

Bienaimé, P. (2015, Mar 12). “The US NAVY combat dolphins are serious military assets”. Retrieved from

“Dolphins In Defence: How Marine Mammals Are Used By The Military” (2019, April 29) Retrieved from, J. (2019, April 30). “Why Whales and Dolphins Join the Navy, in Russia and the U.S.” Retrieved from

Lee, J.J. (2019, May 3). “Military whales and dolphins: What do they do and who uses them?” Retrieved from

Milzarski, E. (2018, May 18). Why military dolphins are more hardcore than you’d think. Retrieved July 06, 2020, from
O’Barry, R. (n.d.) “Use of Dolphins by the U.S. Navy”. Retrieved from

U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program” (n.d.). Retrieved from

All credit for presented images included come from their respected articles.