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Dolphins die after underwater Navy training exercise near San Diego

Three dolphins died earlier this month during a Navy training exercise using underwater explosives off the San Diego coast, authorities said Friday.

Scientists have yet to officially determine what caused the deaths at the Silver Strand Training Complex near Coronado, but examinations of the animals showed injuries consistent with blast trauma.

The unit conducting the underwater training exercises on March 4 had scanned the area and spotted no marine mammals before starting a countdown to detonate the explosives about 10:45 a.m., said Cmdr. Greg Hicks, spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s Third Fleet.

“They saw the dolphins before the explosives went off, but it came so late it would have put humans at risk to stop the process,” he said.

“After the detonation, despite all required protective actions taken to avoid marine mammal impacts, three dolphins were found dead in the area.”

After the explosion, government biologists retrieved the carcasses and took them to a veterinary lab at Sea World to undergo necropsies.

Genetic testing showed the animals were Long-Beaked Common Dolphins, said Sarah Wilkin, a marine mammal biologist for the National Marine Fisheries Service, which is responsible for investigating sick, injured and dead marine mammals.

Samples from the dolphin carcasses are being analyzed to rule out other factors that could have contributed to the deaths, such as disease or poisoning.

Wilkin said the deaths should not have a significant impact on the species’ population.

There are an estimated 15,000 Long-Beaked Common Dolphins along the California coast. While protected under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, the species is not considered threatened or endangered.

Conservationists have wrangled with the U.S. Navy in the past about about military operations, but experts said they knew of no previous incidents in the region of dolphin fatalities involving explosives.

Most of the controversy over the impacts of military training on marine life in recent years has centered on sonar. Environmentalists have argued the U.S. Navy’s sonar exercises can deafen and even kill whales and other marine life.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the military in 2008. The Navy has been working with the National Marine Fisheries Service on permits and protocols for exercises at the Silver Strand facility, Wilkin said.

Environmental groups said the dolphin deaths show the military needs to take further precautions to protect marine life from explosives.


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Comments () | Archives (17)

I thought they used seals, as in U.S. Navy Seals....

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Navy. Shocking.

Just not enough to launch cruise missiles and Hellfires from rones on kids in Afghanistan, now we have to blow up dolphins too.


This is sad and completely unacceptable. I've been reporting on the deaths of wildlife and marine life caused by the BP oil disaster. To see more deaths for something that could have been prevented is absolutely appalling.


Humans are the only important and valuable life form on the planet, right? We can kill off as many other individuals and species as we like, right? It's always been done this way.

At first i thought they were talking about the dolphins that they navy uses for explosive detection and other missions.

15,000. is a very SMALL number, which is why these dolphins are "protected under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act". The use of the word "Common" is a ruse to make these dolphins sound expendable. Three deaths is three too many.

I am so disgusted with the humans, and particularly the military abuse our natural resources and the amazing creatures of this planet. Dolphins are extremely intelligent, sensitive creatures, this is so sad. The human race is shameful.

a little about dolphins:

However, dolphins can establish strong social bonds; they will stay with injured or ill individuals, even helping them to breathe by bringing them to the surface if needed.

This altruism does not appear to be limited to their own species however. The dolphin Moko in New Zealand has been observed guiding a female Pygmy Sperm Whale together with her calf out of shallow water where they had stranded several times.[23] They have also been seen protecting swimmers from sharks by swimming circles around the swimmers or charging the sharks to make them go away.

Dolphins also display culture, something long believed to be unique to humans (and possibly other primate species). In May 2005, a discovery in Australia found Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) teaching their young to use tools. They cover their snouts with sponges to protect them while foraging. This knowledge is mostly transferred by mothers to daughters, unlike simian primates, where knowledge is generally passed on to both sexes. Using sponges as mouth protection is a learned behavior.[27] Another learned behavior was discovered among river dolphins in Brazil, where some male dolphins use weeds and sticks as part of a sexual display.

Three isn't a big deal. It's more important for the Navy remain combat ready, than it is to worry about three dolphins. At least they checked the area before hand; it’s unfortunate that the dolphins were killed though…

The Last thing we need to hear about is harmless dolphins being blown up. Why dont we humans try to understand one simple thing.
"Ban the bombs"

You don't need to set off massive blasts of C4 or TNT in the ocean for TRAINING. A lake will also work. Ever watch MythBusters?


Why do they call it an autopsy for humans but a necropsy for animals? Stupid...

It is unfortunate that the Dolphins died as a result of the underwater explosives training, but as the article states some reasonable precautions were taken prior to the detontation and the USN is/has been working with Fisheries to establish protocol for minimizing the impact. Unfortunately in war and preparation for war (testing and training) some collateral damage occurs.

I too hate to see any Dolphins killed by any means, but in this case some consideration and steps were taken to try and avoid impact on marine life. Why aren't some of the folks posting here taking issue with long-line fishing, and other impacts where multiple deaths of Dolphins as by-catch are the result? Those common, for-profit practices take-out far more Dolphins than occasional, and rare, occurences of USN underwater explosives training.

While this incident was unfortunate, I for one don't believe it demonstrates blatant disregard for the marine environment by the USN, which is not the case with many commercial fishing operations.

I certainly don't expect to have changed anyone's opion here, but some of the opinions I read were a little extreme in my mind, so I felt it important to shed some other light on the subject.

By the way, I am an avid SCUBA diver/instructor and there is nothing more exciting than having wild dolphins join you on a SCUBA dive. I just read an article about a dolphin, so bound up in heavy fishing line it could barely swim, approaching a SCUBA diver, seemingly on-purpose, and remained calm while the SCUBA diver used his knife to cut-away the fishing line and free the dolphin. The article included photos to prove it happened!

So, one unfortnate story involving dolphins, and another unique and good story about dolphins.


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