An inconvenient truth about dolphins

TOKYO - Dolphin hunting in Japan has come under widespread international criticism. Perhaps ironically, some of the loudest cries of protest are coming from countries, including the US, that use the sea mammal for military purposes that are arguably less than humane.

The practice of using marine mammals for military purposes dates back to World War II, when Sweden trained seals carrying magnetic mines to approach German submarines that entered its waters. After the war ended, dolphins and sea lions also began to be used to locate maritime mines, among other duties.

The US military used dolphins during the Vietnam War, the Gulf War and the Iraq War to locate sea mines and guard ports. When Russia seized the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, it also took control of Ukraine's military dolphin unit, which dates back to the Soviet era. Ukraine is demanding that the animals be returned.

Battle fatigue

The military use of dolphins and sea lions has come under strong criticism from researchers and animal rights groups. During military conflicts, these and other sea mammals are at risk of being killed by mines or shot by enemy forces. And even in peacetime, the animals are subjected to conditions that put them under heavy stress, including lengthy air travel and different water temperatures, often resulting in a shorter life span than their counterparts in the wild.

The US military is trying to protect its image by increasing its transparency regarding its handling of sea mammals. But it still faces strong criticism over the issue.

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