Listen – on the whole, dolphins are incredible creatures. They are intelligent beyond our comprehension, they can be genuinely loving and kind, and they are just overall pretty majestic creatures that (like most animals) have suffered greatly at the hands of humanity. They deserve reverence and respect…and a healthy dose of fear.
See, Lisa Frank gave everyone the impression that dolphins were ONLY these kindly sea buddies – but they have a dark side, too.
1. They can be more conniving and sneaky than you realize.
Dolphins are unbelievably intelligent – they’re widely regarded as the 2nd most intelligent species on the planet (humans STILL in first place, woo!), but for the most part, we still regard them as animals…that is to say, we don’t really give them their due. But we should – because it’s genuinely terrifying how smart they really are.
Here’s an excerpt from a Guardian article about a group of dolphins in a marine mammal institute in Mississippi, who were initially trained to pick up any litter that might fall into their holding area with a reward of some fish – and before long turned into an elaborate con game, all thanks to one particularly devious dolphin named Kelly:
Kelly has taken this task one step further. When people drop paper into the water she hides it under a rock at the bottom of the pool. The next time a trainer passes, she goes down to the rock and tears off a piece of paper to give to the trainer. After a fish reward, she goes back down, tears off another piece of paper, gets another fish, and so on. This behaviour is interesting because it shows that Kelly has a sense of the future and delays gratification. She has realised that a big piece of paper gets the same reward as a small piece and so delivers only small pieces to keep the extra food coming. She has, in effect, trained the humans.
Her cunning has not stopped there. One day, when a gull flew into her pool, she grabbed it, waited for the trainers and then gave it to them. It was a large bird and so the trainers gave her lots of fish. This seemed to give Kelly a new idea. The next time she was fed, instead of eating the last fish, she took it to the bottom of the pool and hid it under the rock where she had been hiding the paper. When no trainers were present, she brought the fish to the surface and used it to lure the gulls, which she would catch to get even more fish. After mastering this lucrative strategy, she taught her calf, who taught other calves, and so gull-baiting has become a hot game among the dolphins.
Forget the raptors from Jurassic Park – these are what we should be worried about.
2. Dolphin sexuality is horrifying
Dolphins have a surprising number of similar traits to humans, as evidenced by their overall intelligence, ways of communicating, and even falling in love. And, like humanity, love has a major dark side – when romantic feelings turn sour, things can go bad. VERY, VERY BAD.
Dolphins are known to get sexually aggressive with humans – which is often mischaracterized as “rape.” That’s taking things a bit far – there’s no documented evidence a dolphin has ever raped a human – but their behavior is definitely aggressive and sexual in nature, and it can be scary as hell:
What might be more frightening is the sometimes violent and bullying nature of dolphins’ sexual encounters with other dolphins – specifically, a pattern where two or three male dolphins will corner and intimidate a female dolphin into mating with them for an extended period of time. Again, the “rape” charge is a disputed one – but regardless, the behavior certainly looks downright nightmarish to an outside observer, and gives me a lot more understanding of this King of the Hill episode:
3. Dolphins sometimes murder just to get out some sexual frustration
Over the past few years, there’s been an increasing number of porpoise corpses washing up ashore in San Francisco – and they weren’t killed to be eaten, but rather because (it’s theorized) that some young male dolphins were sexually frustrated and lashed out against the porpoises. Researchers have noted the brutal nature of the attacks and serious trauma left on the bodies of the dead porpoises – with particularly notable levels of damage around the genital area.
And the attacks aren’t that unusual – just unusual for that area. It’s becoming more and more common to hear about dolphins brutally killing porpoises for non-predatory reasons – and with young male dolphins often the culprits, misdirected sexual frustration is one of the leading theories as to what could be motivating these attacks.
So, yeah…horny dolphins can be A PROBLEM.
4. They can be trained to kill with human weapons…and have been.
Starting in the early 1960s, the naval forces for the United States and the USSR began training dolphins for strategic purposes – finding underwater mines, patrolling for enemy swimmers, etc. Mostly covert ops type stuff that utilized dolphins’ variety of skills involving their speed and inherent underwater detection abilities (thanks to their impressive use of echolocation) – it was somewhat unorthodox for the time, but it was a surprisingly efficient and useful option. They even found use during a few wars – acting as look-outs for ships and piers during the Vietnam War and the Iraq-Iran war.
But as time went on, military trainers and planners grew more insidious and ambitious with their plans for their naval dolphin squads – namely, weaponizing dolphins into killing machines.
While the US policy firmly states that they would never train dolphins to attack, rumors have persisted for years stating they had – such as in the memoir of ex-Navy SEAL Brandon Webb, who claimed that the Navy had trained dolphins “to track down enemy divers, outfitting them with a device strapped onto the head that contains a [simulated] compressed gas needle. Once the dolphin has tracked you down, it butts you; the needle shoots out and pokes you, creating an embolism.” And honestly, shoving gas needles into your veins to kill you is one of the gentler methods dolphins were taught – the New York Times reported that dolphins were being trained to use “nose-mounted guns and explosives.” It was only due to outcry from animal rights’ activists that the United States’ Murder-Dolphin program was (officially) shuttered.
On the Soviet side of things, they were being trained to stab enemy swimmers with harpoons that had been attached to their backs…and even go on kamikaze missions to take out enemy ships and submarines, by having explosives attached to them and having them ram into enemy vessels (supposedly they could differentiate enemy subs from friendly subs by the sound the propellers made). And, as a minor follow-up to the Soviet Murder-Dolphin story, most were sold to Iran when the USSR could no longer afford to medicate and feed them. So, uh, Iran has (or had) some murder-dolphins, which is weird.
5. They’re a key line of defense for the largest concentration of nuclear weapons in the world
Naval Base Kitsap has a unique responsibility – it’s where a large portion of the United States’ nuclear arsenal resides, somewhere around 2,000 nuclear weapons (as of 2006 at least – it’s likely this number has decreased a bit). Security there is, obviously, pretty intense – it’s one of the most secure locations on Earth. So how does the Navy protect this base from unwanted enemies looking to do damage? The traditional methods – radar, guards, cameras…and a squadron of trained dolphins.
See, one of the biggest concerns about how the base would be attacked would be by a covert operative (or a small team) trying to enter the base as discreetly as possible – by swimming to it in order to avoid radar detection (sending ships or submarines to invade the base would run too much risk of being seen). And so the waters are patrolled by trained dolphins – better able to maneuver in the water and detect enemy swimmers than any humans or even technology would be.
Yes, one of the biggest nuclear stockpiles on Earth is guarded by dolphins. Think about that the next time you watch Flipper.