The Exploitation Of Navy Dolphins

“Dude, I know you don’t have much for me to do, but spinning me in circles to research dizziness is ridiculous.”

I have long heard terrible tales of invasive and cruel research done by the US Navy’s marine mammal program. So it doesn’t really surprise me to know that the dolphins the US Navy is currently keeping in San Diego are also subject to invasive research that has little benefit to dolphins (as usual, Naomi Rose of the Animal Welfare Institute is on the case). From a CBS News 8 report:

Kept in pens on San Diego Bay for decades, the Navy dolphins have developed a number of chronic diseases similar to those in humans; diseases like kidney stones, liver disease, iron overload and prediabetes symptoms.

“The prevalence of these conditions in the Navy dolphin program is much higher than in the wild,” said Dr. Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist with the Animal Welfare Institute in Washington, DC.

Dr. Rose believes Navy dolphin research should be more about conservation than curing human diseases.

“If you’re going to keep them in captivity then the research you do with them has to have a direct, positive input into their conservation in the wild.  It has to be of value to (the dolphins),” Dr. Rose said.

Some of the research the NMMF conducts does, in fact, focus on conservation.  It can also be invasive to varying degrees.

In a 2016 study, dolphins were given cortisone – a hormonal steroid – to determine what levels can be measured in the animal’s blubber.  The study required up to nine blubber biopsies, obtained from the dolphins’ backs over five days.

“A cold pack was placed on the skin of the biopsy site for several minutes just prior to the biopsy procedure in order the numb the site,” the study’s researchers wrote.

“Two to three needle punches were required per sample to obtain sufficient blubber,” the study revealed.

Scientists also obtained daily fecal samples using a 15-inch catheter tube inserted into the animal’s anus.

In a 2008 study and another study in 2011, the Navy dolphins were subjected to near freezing water, in part, to find out if the animals could live in the frigid ocean waters of a Navy sub base in Washington State.

Over the course of ten days, the dolphins were monitored for indications of cold stress, such as increased respiration rate and shivering.

“They basically forced these animals into temperature conditions that were completely outside their physiological norm. All to justify moving them to this submarine base,” said Dr. Rose, referring to the 2008 study.

In a 2010 study, NMMF scientists used a feeding tube it force a gallon of seawater into the stomachs of Navy dolphins.  The purpose was to monitor osmoregulation – water and salt levels – in the dolphin’s body.

A catheter was placed into the dolphin’s bladder to obtain urine samples over a period of 25 hours.

Some of the dolphins objected to the procedure and the study on those animals was halted, according to the published paper.

“Objected.” That is a nice euphemism.

This is just one more example of the way in which animals, especially dolphins, are commoditized for human purposes. Animal welfare counts for little; human welfare counts for everything (though in this case the benefits aren’t even very clear).

The Navy dolphins are in some ways surplus, as their mine-hunting and other missions are increasingly supplanted by underwater drones and robots. But the Navy really doesn’t know what to do with them. That makes them a fat target for self-interested researchers who want to keep grant money rolling in regardless of whether the research is particularly useful or damaging to the dolphins. That’s messed up.

Video report here. And more from Naomi Rose here.

3 thoughts on “The Exploitation Of Navy Dolphins”

  1. Hi:

    The Vancouver Aquarium hosted a meting (including the Navy) to develop ways to use captives and “rescues” as “untapped resources” for lucrative research grants. They all refer to these sentient beings as “tools” for research.

    The Vancouver Aquarium considers captives and rescued wildlife as “untapped resources” for highly questionable experiments that can cause pain, suffering, and death. The grants by vested interest companies and government can be very lucrative. One example, is that the sea otter victims from the Valdez Exxon oil spill tragedy were to be released but later were kept for repeated blood tests/experiments funded by Exxon.

    In 2007 a conference was held at the VA to discuss how to get lucrative government, military, and private business grants. The meeting included the US Navy. (“Marine Mammals in the Lab: Tools for Conservation and Science )They actually agree to many issues by those who are opposed to captive experiments with marine mammals. They confirmed some of the major differences between captive test-tube studies and field studies. They also discussed how to deal with animal protection groups.

    LINK: Photos of isolation chamber etc. that over the years 22 wild caught 2 week old sea lions were subjected to “Marine Mammals in the Lab: Tools for Conservation and Science 2007” Page 12

    Marine Mammals in the Lab: Tools for Conservation & Science Official Full-Text Paper (PDF): Marine Mammals in the Lab: Tools for Conservation & Science

    VA claims that cetaceans are needed for research. Belugas such as, mother and daughter Aurora and Qila, played no important role in acoustic studies. Such studies started in the 40s and later studies in the 70s led to a marine sanctuary for belugas in the St. Lawrence River. Studies are being done in the wild and in aquariums such the VA managed aquarium in Spain. Monitors are on tuna boats to stop entanglement of dolphins by stopping the fishing when dolphins are sighted because it has been proven that no nets can be developed and implemented to prevent deaths.

    Sea lions:

    In regards to the sea lion and seal experiments, researchers (including VA vet when in CA)have experimented with implanted data loggers etc. In sea lions it caused major infections. In addition, attaching equipment on heads and body was recently found to cause major drag. Lifeforce had always said obstruction of natural behaviours would invalidate studies looking at natural prey consumption and energy requirements. In 2015 the VA, UBC, and others captured 20 Harbour seals to look at salmon fry predation. Large instrument packs were attached to their heads and backs. It was stated that the information gathered could lead to a West Coast seal hunt (See Photo Above)

    Lots of history and their future vivisection plans.

    Peter Hamilton



  2. Wow this is definitely an eye opening post. Although I’m not surprised that our military doesn’t have nature’s best interest at heart. From experience, I know the US military doesn’t much care about the well being of its human members…

  3. In spite of being warned, Tim Zimmerman persists in relying on Naomi Rose, Perp #2 in the embarrassing 1996 tragic demise of the Sugarloaf Dolphin Sanctuary. Naomi Rose was then employed by Humane Society of United States now she’s with Animal Welfare Institute. #1 Perp in the torpedoing of SDS = Ric O’Barry who was convicted on 6 counts violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act by endangering & killing Navy dolphin, Buck after an illegal release and having 2 other Navy dolphins, Luther & Jake, confiscated from Sugarloaf and returned to the Navy in poor health. History has a way of telling ugly heart wrenching tragedies that some want to forget. Any progress of civilization depends on NEVER forgetting. Why would anyone of Tim Zimmerman’s caliber hand the U.S. Navy & defense contractor SAIC the best defense for continuing their tax payer supported inhumane, obsolete Navy Marine Mammal Program & National Marine Mammal Foundation of pseudo science & torture; because so called marine mammal experts/advocates like Naomi Rose & Ric O’Barry have treated their dolphins worse & the Navy has Federal Court convictions to prove it!? As an eyewitness & an original co-founder of Sugarloaf Dolphin Sanctuary I have learned painfully that the Sanctuary concept for beleaguered marine mammals everywhere including those surviving the Navy’s jail cell habitats, torturous training & experimental psuedo science…that Sanctuary concept is not flawed; but too many of the folks involved are! Call me Tim.

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