The Navy’s Deadly Obsession with Whales

MONDAY, JULY 14, 2014


You’ve likely read the stories—or at least heard rumors—about America’s secret dolphin navy, trained to patrol harbors and clear mines. Or perhaps you’ve followed the lawsuits, filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council, against the U.S. Navy over whale strandings, one of which made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008.

But there’s a tragic and ironic backstory to these events that’s remained hidden behind veils of classified reports, official denials (plausible and otherwise), and improbably scientific history.

It’s a tale of obsession. A failed marriage between Navy scientists and small cetaceans with a genius for biosonar, or echolocation, that whales and dolphins evolved over tens of millions of years—and which the U.S. Navy hoped to reverse-engineer in an effort to perfect its mine-sweeping and anti-submarine warfare.

It’s an unlikely tale of science gone awry in a 20-year battle between conservationists and the U.S. Navy over whale strandings, which I explore in my new book War of the Whales. And it all began in the basement of a biology lab at Harvard University during WW II…

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