Navy Dolphins Going to Hawaii Despite Public Opinion, But You Make a Difference

When word came my way that the Navy had scheduled a meeting with the Hawaii Department of Agriculture (DOA) to gain permission to bring dolphins to Hawaii for training – and that the dolphins would be fitted with “anti-forage” devices while on exercises in the open ocean – I couldn’t not go. My interest in the military use of dolphins spans decades.
MilitaryDolphin1The familiar conflicts tumbled in the back of my mind as I navigated to the meeting – we need the Navy, and the Navy needs effective tools to do their job. The problem, of course, is that dolphins aren’t tools, but until they have an effective replacement that is exactly how the Navy views the marine mammals in their program.
While long ago and of short duration, my experience training dolphins altered the course of my life and in less than a year I had gone from having the dream of communicating with dolphins to reconciling to the fact that communication with dolphins would be one of the worst things that could happen to them. The conflict between my passion for whales and dolphins and what I know is done in the name of research still drives me to search for depth and meaning in what dolphins are required to do in captivity, offset by the knowledge that our military strives to keep us safe.
I had planned to quietly observe and record the proceedings and anticipated that DOA would fully align with the Navy’s request. But that is not exactly how it went.
The DOA Board were to a person professional, listened to testimony by the animal rights people with equal respect as they gave the individual who presented the Navy’s case, and showed patience and warmth in handling the discussion. It didn’t seem to matter that they were constrained to consider only the material that is directly relevant to the permit request, they listened with empathy to what people had to say about dolphin rights.

Navy Dolphins Will Receive Training in Hawaii from Wikiwhale on Vimeo.
The Navy scientist who participated via phone didn’t just dial-up, he was dialed-in and that was probably the most significant thing I took away – while far from transparent, it wasn’t quite the brick wall response nor the dancing around the point tactics that we have come to expect from both military and industrial spokespersons.
That said, it remains to be seen how forthcoming the Navy will be when something goes wrong, as it did in 2011 in California (from This Dolphin Detonation Event Was Brought to You by the U.S. Navy):
California Port Security

On 4 March 2011, ‘mine counter-measure training’ was conducted on the ocean [near San Diego] A single time-delayed C4 block demolition charge …was detonated on the sandy ocean floor at a depth of [48 feet], … approximately 0.5-0.75 nautical miles from shore. At 5 minutes prior to the detonation, a group of 100-150 long-beaked common dolphins was observed entering the 640-[yard] mitigation zone by safety observers.
Options to retrieve the charge via divers or from the surface to stop the detonation were considered. However, the short time interval to detonation made this too risky for personnel. An effort to discourage the dolphins from entering the area by placing a boat between the detonation site and the school of dolphins was unsuccessful.
One minute after the detonation, three dolphins were observed motionless at the surface. The rest of the school continued to travel in the same direction as it had been prior to the detonation. The Navy recovered the three animals and transferred them to the local stranding network for necropsy. An additional long-beaked common dolphin stranded dead approximately [42 miles] north of the detonation site, 3 days later.
All four dolphins sustained typical mammalian primary blast injuries.

A victim of blunt force trauma, Victoria (L-112) washed up on an Oregon beach.
A victim of blunt force trauma, Victoria (L-112) washed up on an Oregon beach.

In 2012 a young orca was found on an Oregon beach, killed by blunt force trauma. Since the Navy regularly bombs in the marine sanctuary where these endangered whales live, the finger of blame pointed directly at them.
At first the Navy was silent, then denied any involvement, then finally they held a series of town hall meetings. I attended the meeting in Friday Harbor, WA, and was similarly impressed with the Navy’s ability to be simultaneously forthcoming and obtuse:

They did dodge some questions, particularly those that involved international cooperation (“Are they constrained by U.S. law when operating with Canadian military in Canadian waters?”  Unclear answer) or about past bombing in the Sanctuary (first claiming that the Navy had no records going back 15 years, then qualifying that to ‘not precise records’). But for the most part they were impressively sincere in their concern about the possible consequences of their activities. (Seattle PI).

Here in Hawaiian waters Navy sonar has been linked to the stranding and deaths of whales, and the Navy has come up with a recipe for acceptable deaths (NBC News Reports 27 Million Marine Mammals May Be Impacted By Navy Practice – Comment Period Extended).

The Navy estimates that its activities could inadvertently kill 186 whales and dolphins off the East Coast and 155 off Hawaii and Southern California, mostly from explosives. 

It calculates more than 11,000 serious injuries off the East Coast and 2,000 off Hawaii and Southern California, along with nearly 2 million minor injuries, such as temporary hearing loss, off each coast. It also predicts marine mammals might change their behavior — such as swimming in a different direction — in 27 million instances.  

While the Navy has brought dolphins over to Hawaii for training in the past, this is the first year that the DOA didn’t just rubber-stamp the request, and public opinion was clearly against it.

Local animal rights representatives Dr. Jim Anthony,  Mimi Forsyth, and Cathy Goeggel spoke passionately about the use of dolphins as weapons as well as questioning the use of the anti-foraging devices. (These devices strap the dolphins mouths so that only very small fish can be eaten…if a dolphin escapes it will just starve or possibly eat one of the toxic reef fishes. The Navy spokesman emphasized that larger fish could not be taken, probably in order to address one of the concerns that the DOA must address (how might local fish populations be affected)).

Ultimately the Board voted 5 – 2 to allow the Navy to bring the dolphins to Oahu (remember though, the Board could only consider whether or not the Navy’s intentions matched what they had stated – not whether or not it was ethically right to do so). They put constraints on the time frame in which the Navy could operate, and asked probing questions.
What this means to you is that although this process is frustrating for those of us who care deeply about the ocean environment and the animals that live there, without public awareness the Navy would have less motivation to find alternatives to using and killing dolphins and whales in keeping us safe, and public opinion is valuable.

New Orca Whale Spotted Off The Coast of Washington – This is the Third Calf Born to These Endangered Orcas!

New L pod calf. (NOAA)
New L pod calf. (NOAA)

NOAA Fisheries West Coast – Science & Management
New L pod calf!!
Dr. Brad Hanson gives us this latest news from the orca research cruise as well as an update on location of L pod:
25 February update – We were about 15 miles west of Westport this morning when we resighted the whales and observed a new calf – L94 appears to be the mother. To recap since our previous posting, on 23 February we were off Cape Lookout, Oregon following the whales north. Yesterday, we continued following the whales north past the mouth to the Columbia River. Since L84 was tagged a week ago we have been with all of K pod but only part of L pod.
On 23 February Jon Scordino with Makah Fisheries sent us photos taken on 20 February of L25 off Cape Flattery, which indicated another part of L pod was in the general area.
This morning, shortly after we launched our Zodiac we observed L41, part of the group that includes L25, indicating that another group of L pod had joined up overnight – this is first time we have documented pods reuniting on the outer coast.
Fortunately the whales were very grouped up and within a few minutes we observed the new calf – with its unique orange-ish color on the white areas. The calf looked very energetic. We have five more days on the cruise and look forward to additional observations of the calf and collecting additional prey and fecal samples.

Another New Wild Killer Whale Baby Born to J-pod!

New calf in J-pod, J-51 with her mother, J-19
New calf in J-pod, J-51 with her mother, J-19

This is fantastic news! The Southern Resident orcas have added another new member, first spotted today (2/12/15).
Together with the inclusion to the population of the captive orca Lolita by a recent ruling by NOAA, the population of these endangered whales has inched up to 80 (79 in the wild and one held at the Miami Seaquarium).
The Center for Whale Research reports:

The late December calf, J50, with its J16 family were seen today as well; but, the big news is that J19 and J41 were swimming protectively on either side on another new baby that we estimate is about one week old. This newest addition to J pod is designated J51, and the presumed mother is thirty-six year old J19. Her ten-year old daughter, J41, was also in attendance. The newest baby appears healthy.
This brings us to twenty-six whales in J pod, the most viable pod in the Endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale population of the US and Canada Pacific Northwest. K pod has 19 individuals, and L pod has 34 individuals for a total population of 79 SRKW’s as of today. That number can change anytime with the birth or death of one of these charismatic whales.

Balcomb recently explained the population dynamics of the Southern Resident orcas, and at that time he noted that of the three pods (J,K, and L), J-pod was the one that shows the most promise in helping the population to recover. The video is from the Ways of Whales workshop given by Orca Network.


With the Inclusion of Lolita, the Endangered Wild Orca Population is Now 79…But This Video May Surprise You

“The 2005 endangered listing for Southern Resident Killer Whales, a distinct population of killer whales in the Pacific Northwest, excluded captive animals. In 2013, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and other groups petitioned NOAA Fisheries to drop the exclusion so the listing would also include Lolita. In early 2014 NOAA Fisheries proposed to drop the exclusion. Since then the agency has further reviewed scientific evidence and more than 17,000 public comments to arrive at a final decision.”  (NOAA).

While Lolita is now aboard NOAA’s ark, she is no closer to swimming with her wild family members  – which is ironic considering her inclusion just increased the population by one percent, about the same factor as the birth of their latest calf. But then again, had Lolita not been taken in the first place or even returned at a younger age most likely she would have had several calves.

Instead, she fell down a bureaucratic rabbit hole into a tiny tank, where the only people who are concerned for her right to adequate space and companionship seem powerless to help her.

NOAA also seems fairly powerless to help Lolita, according to their recent press conference, but they did an excellent job of presenting the facts and explaining what the endangered species classification can, and cannot, do for Lolita. Their audio news conference was edited for this video, but all the pertinent information is present.

I just wish I could have detected a tone of sympathy for Lolita or regret by NOAA at their powerlessness but to be fair these are very competent individuals reporting in their official capacity.