If dolphins could talk, they might also discuss their work with several of the world's navies, including those of the United States, France and the Soviet Union. But this Audubon film doesn't.
Hardy Jones, producer of "If Dolphins Could Talk," said the program was meant to concentrate on conservation and environment, not animal rights. In addition, getting information and film on the Navy's work is difficult, he said.
"The reason, at least from my point of view," said Jones, "is because there are huge conservation issues at stake, which dolphins represent. And the Navy doesn't allow anyone access to that program and they don't talk about it to any extent."
The Navy's work with dolphins goes back at least to 1960 and has fascinating chapters, some classified, others not.
According to information previously published in The Washington Post, the Navy trains dolphins and other mammals for a variety of tasks ranging from detecting enemy frogmen and submerged mines and weapons to placing sensors or acoustical beacons on underwater obstacles and explosives on underwater targets. In 1965, a dolphin carried tools and messages to aquanauts 200 feet below the surface of the Sea Lab II project off LaJolla, Calif.
In 1970, the Navy acknowledged that it sent five dolphins to Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, to test their abilities to detect enemy frogmen. In 1987, dolphins provided underwater surveillance of an anchored barge used as a U.S. command base during the Iran-Iraq war.
In February 1989, the Marine Mammal Commission, investigating allegations that Navy trainers mistreated dolphins and sea lions, found isolated incidents, but said the Navy does "as good or better" job as any other trainers in caring for its mammals at its facilities in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii; Key West, Fla., and San Diego, Calif.
A Navy spokesman said in November 1988 that the death rate of the 240 mammals it has trained since 1960 has been less than that of the animals in the wild. At that time, the Navy said it was training about 115 dolphins, sea lions, beluga whales and other marine mammals.
In May, pressured by animal rights advocates, the Navy agreed to environmental studies on the use of trained dolphins at the Navy's submarine base at Bangor, Wash., where they would be used as security guards to protect Trident nuclear submarines from underwater intruders. (Not coincidentally, the Navy's submarine service uses dolphins as its signature.)
Some animal-rights activists oppose using animals for military purposes. In 1977, two University of Hawaii graduate students were convicted of having released two 8-foot, 350-pound Atlantic bottlenose dolphins from their water-pen at the university's marine laboratory at Kewalo Basin. The animal behaviorist who directed the program feared the dolphins, which were unfamiliar with the Pacific waters, were probably killed by sharks.
The female dolphins were highly trained, said the director, Louis M. Herman, who appears in this week's Audubon program. One, Kea, understood 12 words and was learning the concept of nouns and verbs. A news report described Herman as "heartbroken" over their loss.