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Navy Asked to Consider Moral Questions in Military Use of Dolphins

September 6, 1990

SILVERDALE, Wash. (AP) _ Critics are questioning the morality of the Navy’s plan to train naturally playful dolphins to guard nuclear submarines.

″We are militarizing space ... and now we have the audacity to think we can militarize animals. It is insane,″ Jeanne Clark of Hempstead, N.Y., said at a hearing Wednesday night on the Navy’s plan to use as many as 16 dolphins to guard its Trident subs at Bangor.

Animal-rights activists protested military use of dolphins after news reports in 1988, citing Navy records, said 13 dolphins in Navy training had died from 1986 to 1988. Nearly half suffered from lack of appetite or stomach ulcers. Other ailments included hepatitis and pneumonia.

The Navy recently reported that none of its 142 marine mammals had died since June 1989.

Animal-rights groups sued the Navy in April 1989, arguing that bringing dolphins to Bangor required an environmental impact statement under federal law. No dolphins are now at Bangor. Eight Trident subs are stationed there.

The groups dropped the lawsuit in May when the Navy agreed to conduct the environmental review. The assessment is due next summer; Wednesday night’s hearing was on its scope.

Laurie Raymond of the Progressive Animal Welfare Society in Seattle said the assessment should consider scientific questions such as the effects of stress and cold water on the warm-water dolphins.

Most speakers made more emotional arguments.

″We are polluting the moral environment,″ said the Rev. Gretchen Woods of Kitsap Unitarian Universalist Association.

Les Bivens, associate head of the biosciences division at the Naval Ocean Systems Center in San Diego, said it would be difficult to address moral questions in the impact statement.

But he said, ″I do not think the people here have anything to worry about whatsoever.″ A federal Marine Mammal Commission investigation in 1989 found no major problems in the Navy’s dolphin-training program.

In Boston, meanwhile, protests from animal-rights activists have led an aquarium director to rethink plans to trade an aggressive, unsociable show dolphin to the Navy.

The New England Aquarium would have sent Rainbow, an 11-year-old male, to the secret underwater mammal program at the San Diego center.

Aquarium director John H. Prescott said Wednesday he believed the trade would be good for Rainbow. But he added, ″If it’s causing public concern, I must pay attention. It’s not a closed issue.″

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