The Navy and Kamikaze Dolphins Part 2

About the rumors that the United States Navy trained dolphins to operate combat and kamikaze missions, about the dolphins skin and sonar.

Responses to the stories were predictable. Letters about the Navy's inhuman treatment of these friends to humanity poured into the Office of Naval Research, naval stations, and congressional offices. People who might tolerate bad treatment of other species could not tolerate bad treatment of dolphins. For centuries, humans and dolphins have felt a kinship with each other. The Greeks even hinted at the idea that dolphins once were humans; indeed, dolphins were once land animals, but returned to the sea thousands of years ago. They could easily kill people, but they never do. There is not one recorded incident of dolphins, who kill sharks with ease, having ever killed a person. (And people have killed dolphins by the hundreds.) On the other hand, there are substantiated reports of dolphins playing with children, saving drowning swimmers, helping fishermen catch fish. Affectionate, with perpetual smiles, they evoke love in human beings, and it is unthinkable to most that they should suffer at the hands of people.

The Navy admits that it did have dolphins in Camranh Bay, but says that they were there for other reasons: to see how they responded to a new environment and to transportation over long distances. If the newspaper stories were untrue, how did they start? Picture this scene, the Navy said: A reporter, interviewing navy personnel studying and training dolphins, has been given all the "unclassified" information available--that is, all the information dealing with biological research and training for peaceful purposes. Then the reporter asks, "What about military uses?" And, since all such information is automatically secret, the navy spokesman replies, "Use your imagination." And the reporter does.

The Navy has never denied the fact that it has been studying and training dolphins for a long time--since 1961, in fact. How then did the Navy spend the millions of dollars allocated to dolphin research ($30 million by 1974)? And what did it receive in return? The spin-offs are surprising.

Submarine Skin. Max Kramer, a German scientist who came to the U.S. after W.W. II, was a pioneer in studying how the dolphin is able to swim so fast. By all superficial data, it should not be able to reach the incredible speeds it does: 40 knots (about 35 mi.) per hour. The secret, Kramer found, lies in the skin, which, because of its structure, is extremely resilient. The skin undulates as the dolphin swims, reducing turbulence and friction. Somehow the dolphin creates a vacuum around himself, which causes less friction drag. From his studies, Kramer was able to help produce a synthetic dolphin skin, lamiflo, which could be used to cover submarines, vessels, torpedoes, and superspeed aircraft, thus increasing speed.

The Dolphin's X-Ray Sonar System. Through an extremely complex sonar system, far more sophisticated than any humans have made, a dolphin, even blindfolded, can zero in on a target as small as a buckshot pellet, distinguish one metal from another, and "read" another animal's insides. The dolphin sends out thousands of tiny clicks that, put together, sound like a rusty hinge. The sound bounces off an object, then returns to the dolphin, who is able to tell how far away the object is, how big it is, and even "what" it is. In the water, sound comes from all sides so that a human would not be able to tell the direction from which sounds come. A dolphin can. Its insulated ears and the "sound windows" in its head give it a stereophonic receiving system that works on both long and short range. By unlocking the secrets of this system, the Navy hopes to improve its own sonar.

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