“Taking” Marine Mammals for National Defense

10.26.18 | 1 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The U.S. Navy this month updated its regulations on the use of marine mammals — such as whales, dolphins, and seals — for national defense purposes. See Acquisition, Transport, Care, and Treatment of Navy Marine Mammals, Secretary of the Navy Instruction 3900.41H, 10 October 2018.

The Navy policy on marine mammals follows a 1987 statute (10 USC 7524) under which the Secretary of Defense may authorize “the taking of not more than 25 marine mammals each year for national defense purposes.”

The term “take” in this context is ominously defined (in 16 USC 1362) as meaning “to harass, hunt, capture, or kill, or attempt to harass, hunt, capture, or kill any marine mammal.”

Dolphins and some other sea mammals can be trained to detect and track undersea objects, among other missions. See U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program.

The Oceana environmental organization criticized the FY2019 defense authorization act for reducing legal protection for sea mammals.

The act “includes a harmful provision that weakens protections for marine mammals from the U.S. Navy’s use of high-intensity active sonar and underwater explosives,” the organization said.