The U.S. Navy may deploy a team of dolphins to ensure the Strait of Hormuz, a waterway that facilitates one fifth of the world’s daily oil trade, remains open if Iran closes it.
In the war in Iraq in 2003, dolphins and sea lions equipped with tracking devices on their fins were trained to detect underwater mines and drop acoustic transponders nearby. Human divers then disarm the explosives or remove them altogether.
Dolphins are particularly suited to this task when trained properly. A 2010 article in the San Francisco Chronicle describes dolphins as extremely fast swimmers, able to dive multiple times before suffering decompression sickness. They also possess sonar capabilities that are more accurate than most man-made devices.
In an interview with NPR, Admiral Tim Keating confirmed the Navy has dolphins at its disposal, but declined to elaborate on whether they might be deployed in the Strait of Hormuz.
“We’ve got dolphins,” said Keating. “And how lovable is Flipper? But they are astounding in their ability to detect underwater objects.”
According to the New York Times, the U.S. has warned Iran that closing the strait would constitute a “red line” that would provoke an American response.
But the Atlantic Wire writes that the use of dolphins as minesweepers has attracted criticism from human rights groups in the past. While they are only supposed to detect mines for human retrievers, they are large enough to detonate them.
Source: CBC News