All Volunteer Military? Not If You’re a Dolphin

Spencer Lo

Does the United States still conscript people into the military? Yes—the case of military dolphins

Both from a strategic and moral standpoint, it is no surprise that when military action is contemplated, governments tend to favor effective tactics involving the least risk to human lives. Even better are effective tactics involving low risk to all human lives. If the goal of the military action is justified, what could be morally problematic with using such means? These widely held notions likely motivated the U.S. Navy’s recent contemplated use of military dolphins in the ongoing conflict between Iran and United States.

As reported in the New York Times, Iran has threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, a crucially strategic waterway where 16 million barrels of oil flow through every day, and it can do so in relatively short time by deploying mines. U.S. governmental officials warned that Iran’s threat, if carried out, would cross a “red line” provoking a military response. Should the situation escalate to that point, the U.S. military would need to deal with the problem of how to detect (and then destroy) the mines, for which there is a time tested solution: mine-detecting dolphins. Once detected, the job of destroying the mines falls to human divers. Nonetheless, even though military dolphins operate only in a secondary role, the risk of harm to them is very real; they could accidentally set off live mines and, more seriously, prompt the Iranians to intentionally target them and other dolphins in the area. Still, is there a moral problem here? In addition to the strategic merits of the tactic, wouldn’t the very low risk to humans fully justify using dolphins in this way? Continue reading