Last week the Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi denied that Iran had threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz – a crucial 54km wide strait through which Gulf countries export petroleum – but the United States press has been abuzz with reports that oil exports are in jeopardy.The Atlantic Wire recently reported that instead of dispatching a heavily-armed military arsenal in defense, the U.S. Navy is poised to send in a pod of mine-detecting dolphins. If this happens, it will be their 3rd tour of duty in the Persian Gulf.
The U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program began in the 1960s but was classified until the 1990s, raising suspicions that the dolphins were being trained to perform sinister tricks, but the navy denied those claims.
After extensive study, it was discovered that dolphins have an incredible biosonar that allows them to detect metal objects from great distances. Sea Lions have also been used by the navy because of their superior vision.
Should Iran decide to close the Strait of Hormuz by placing mines underwater, the dolphins – equipped with a pinger on their flipper – would scout them out and drop an acoustic transponder nearby that would alert human divers to their location.
The mines would then be professionally disarmed.
Dolphins trained like police dogs
In a 2002 Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Technical Report, Rehn and Riggs explained how the dolphins are trained:
The dolphins and sea lions are trained by five teams of the Navy’s Marine Mammal fleet members. One team specializes in swimmer detection, three teams in mine location, and another team in object recoveries. The quick-response goal of this fleet is to mobilize a team and be on site within 72 hours. Dolphins are trained much as police dogs and hunting dogs are. They are given rewards such as fish on correct completion of a task. Dolphins are trained to detect underwater mines and enemy swimmers and then report back to their handlers.
Although Snopes debunked a rumor that American-trained killer dolphins were released during Hurricane Katrina, or that the navy has ever trained dolphins in anger, Russia has been successful at training dolphins to detect and harm enemy combatants. And in 2000, the BBC reported that Russia sold “kamikaze” dolphins to Iran.
According to the paper, “dolphins and other aquatic mammals were trained by Russian experts to attack warships and enemy frogmen, but when funding for the project ceased, many were moved to a private dolphinarium to perform for tourists.”
When tourists stopped coming in the winter and the animals were starving, “27 animals, including walruses, sea lions, seals, and a white beluga whale, were loaded with the dolphins into a Russian transport aircraft for the journey from Sevastopol, on the Crimean peninsula, in the Black Sea, to the Persian Gulf,” the BBC added.
In 2003, when dolphins were dispatched to the Persian Gulf for the second time to locate underwater mines, PETA activists were outraged, claiming that the animals had not volunteered their services and were unwittingly placed in grave danger.
top image via HEPCA
More on Dolphins in the Middle East:
Egypt Establishes Country’s First Dolphin Sanctuary
Four Dolphins Living in a Filthy Egyptian Pool
Bottlenose Dolphins in Egyptian Pool Imported From the Cove