Misery of dolphins trained to go to war

Click to follow
DOLPHINS trained by the Soviet military to be "watchdogs" at naval installations, and to lay or identify mines, are suffering in inadequate dolphinariums around the world, or have died in transit, according to a report.

The study, published today by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS), based in Bath, also highlighted the fact that military use of dolphins is still a priority for the US, which, like the Soviet Union, first began experiments with the mammals in the 1950s.

The emphasis the US places on the work was demonstrated last week, when the WDCS computer was the target of a hacker based in a US naval installation, apparently seeking advance sight of the report.

The report tells a dismal tale of the fate of 43 bottlenose dolphins which were trained by the Russians and lived in the Black Sea. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, many were sold to dolphinariums or theme- parks in Malta, Cyprus, Turkey and Argentina. Frances Clarke, the WDCS's campaigns co-ordinator, said: "We want British tourists to be aware of the conditions these dolphins suffer, and urge them not to visit these institutions."

Many of the animals, reckoned to be as smart as humans in some regards, died in poor facilities at receiving airports. Others were taken to swimming- pools or harbour pens. In all, of the 43 exported from the Black Sea, 34 died thanks to poor travelling conditions and facilities in captivity. "Russia still has dolphins held at Sebastopol, but because of a lack of funding they aren't using them for anything except search and recovery in the port," said Miss Clarke. "But the US Navy has a very intensive programme, and isn't going to phase it out, because dolphins proved useful in the Gulf."

The US Navy is also using dolphins to lay and detect mines, and monitor submarines. During the Gulf war, it used them to search ahead of ships for mines. Since the 1950s, military scientists have tried to find ways to exploit their capabilities. Experiments are thought to include carrying cameras and mines.

The WDCS computer security system foiled what it described as a "half- hearted" attempt at hacking. "If you try to put in codes that would take you past the public area of our website, the system automatically tracks you back to your source," said Miss Clarke. "We found the attempt came from a naval military source in the US." The society said US service chiefs admitted the attempt. Miss Clarke said: "There is nothing in the report that would have an impact on the US Navy, although it could be of general interest to them."

Exporters say they are helping to conserve the species through captive breeding programmes but the society said the trade was a commercial venture contributing nothing to conservation. No successful reproduction programme had been established in any of the facilities except at one in Israel. "The export of Black Sea dolphins is simply a disaster for the animals involved," says the report. The WDCS is calling for the return to the wild of the surviving exported dolphins.