Revisiting Animals and War

The Hartford Courant ran a story in early April about the objections from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and other groups over the military’s use of dolphins and other animals in prosecuting the war in Iraq. But what caught my eye were the comments of Joyce DiBenedetto-Colton, coordinator of the Miami-Dade Community College Animal Ethics Study Center.

On first glance one might assume that an Animal Ethics Study Center might be devoted to the various aspects of the debate over the treatment of animals. DiBenedetto-Colton’s center, however, is essentially an animal rights organization. DiBenedetto-Colton serves as the advisor for MDCC’s Students’ Organization for Animal Rights, and you can get a flavor of the Animal Ethics Study Center’s agenda by taking a look at the program for the center’s Fourth Annual Animal Awareness Week — Through Their Eyes,

  • Gene Bauston
  • Steven Wise
  • Ken Shapiro
  • Susan Hargreaves

Sheesh — why not just come clean and call it the Miami-Dade Community College Center for the Promotion of Animal Rights?

Anyway, the Hartford Courant asked DiBenedetto-Colton about the use of animals by the military and she gave them a series of question that she says she asks to determine whether or not it is ethical to use animals for military purposes,

Is it a job that humans have done? In the case of the dolphins identifying mines, the answer is clearly yes, she said.

Are these dolphins doing the task willingly? Certainly, she says. “Dolphins can be very cooperative and perform these things willingly.”

Where things get dicey, she said, is the questions “Are they aware they are taking on great risk?” Here the answer in Iraq is probably no, she said.

As in the case of a soldier, she said, “If we knowingly send someone to their death without their consent, then is that orally right I think we have to say, no, it is not.”

DiBenedetto-Colton said she believes handlers should also get an animal’s consent before placing the animal in danger. With a highly intelligent animal like a dolphin, that may be possible, she said.

DiBenedetto-Colton is joined in this assessment by Wesleyan philosophy professor and Peter Singer collaborator Lori Gruen. Gruen intones that “War does a number on animals,” and adds that using dolphins as mine detectors is only moral if the dolphins are not deceived by their handlers,

Wesleyan’s Gruen, saying she did not have a good sense of the risk involved for the dolphins, said it was important in either case not to deceive an animal.

“To them, what they are doing may appear as a game,” Gruen said, in effect exploiting and deceiving them, which she said would be “objectionable.”

“There is an element of responsibility; humans have to treat the animals well, and treat them in ways that don’t put them at risk,” Gruen said.

Gruen is the author of articles with titles like, “Dismantling Oppression: an analysis between women and animals.” In the 1980s she was associated with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and campaigned against animal research with that group saying, “Scientists aren’t going to be able to do anything without a public backlash.”


Our animal allies. Steve Grant, The Hartford Courant, April 4, 2003.

Laboratory Primate Newsletter. Volume 25 Number 3 July 1986.

Activists Complain about Dolphins Used During War in Iraq

CNSNews.Com ran an interesting article in March about People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ opposition to the U.S. Navy’s use of mine-detecting dolphins.

Writer Marc Morano interviewed PETA’s Stephanie Boyles who characterized the Navy’s use of the dolphins as “just ridiculous.” She told Morano,

These are animals that, number one, have not volunteered to take part in this whatsoever. Number two, they are being put in harm’s way . . . when they don’t even know they are in harm’s way.

There have been already enough victims in this world. We don’t have to start adding other species to it.

Boyles goes on to assert that although the dolphins do not realize “they are in harm’s ways” this does not mean that the dolphins don’t have a mind of their own,

Why are we spending time trying to train animals that have lives and minds of their own to try and carry out these tasks for us? That just seems a little archaic, not to mention unreliable.

. . .

They have mind of their owns; they don’t realize the tasks they are being taught to perform are life and death. And when they don’t perform correctly, human lives will be lost. [The dolphins] think this is a game and yet the risk to their lives and the amount of suffering they may endure is great, and we don’t seem to care about that.

Meanwhile Humane Society of the United State marine biologist Naomi Rose offered a more moderate approach to the dolphin issue saying it was “concerned about the welfare” of the dolphins, but stopped short of opposing their use for mine detection. Rose told Morano,

As we have in the past, we will continue to express our concerns to the Navy and Congress about the military use of marine mammals, but while the war continues, we remain focused on the welfare of all those in the combat zone — human and animal.

But it was left to Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy to state the obvious point that animal rights activists always fail to grasp,

My personal priority would be to save human lives and most especially American lives. If the dolphins can do so, hopefully at minimal risks to themselves and at great benefit to us, that seems to me to be a proper rendering of the priorities.

According to a UPI story about the program, the use of dolphins to detect mines goes back to Vietnam era. The dolphins are trained to drop a buoy near a suspected mine, which divers then inspect and detonate any mines they find.

The Navy has never released statistics on how effective the dolphins are at locating mines, but UPI quoted a retired Naval officer who helped create the dolphin program as saying that the dolphins are actually more effective than the mine sweeping ships and typically locate 99.8 percent of mines in tests.


Dolphins Did Not ‘Volunteer’ for War, Animal ‘Rights’ Activists Say Marc Morano, CNSNews.Com, March 26, 2003.

Animal Tales: Dolphins do duty in wartime Alex Cukan, UPI Science News, March 28, 2003.