Secrecy News

Navy Issues Guidance on Use of Marine Mammals

A new U.S. Navy Instruction (pdf) updates Navy policy on the use of marine mammals for national security missions.

It seems that by law (10 USC 7524), the Secretary of Defense is authorized to “take” (or acquire) up to 25 wild marine mammals each year “for national defense purposes.”  These mammals — including whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals and sea lions — are used for military missions such as locating and marking underwater mines, and providing force protection against unauthorized swimmers or vehicles, among other things.

The new Secretary of the Navy Instruction 3900.41F, dated 13 November 2009 and published this week, provides guidance on “Acquisition, Transport, Care and Maintenance of Marine Mammals.”

The U.S. military marine mammal program has labored under a cloud of public suspicion, the Navy admits, and such suspicion has only been aggravated by the secrecy that surrounded the program for many years.

“Several decades of classification of the program’s true missions of mine-hunting and swimmer defense, led to media speculation and animal activist charges of dolphins used as offensive weapons, speculation and charges that could not be countered with facts due to that classification,” according to a Navy fact sheet.

“With declassification of the missions of the program in the early 1990s, the Navy has repeatedly and openly discussed those missions, but rumors are not easily forgotten, and there are those who continue to actively promote them.”