“ The Navy has invested a huge amount of money" in technologies such as side-scan sonar, which is being used in Iraq now, says LaPuzza. But the mechanical systems are not yet sophisticated enough to replace the dolphins, he says. As soon as they are, "we are going to put ourselves out of business." But based on current technology, "we'll still need dolphins for the foreseeable future."
Currently, says LaPuzza, the Navy has a dozen or so "retired" dolphins in its San Diego pens. O'Barry thinks the word is grossly misapplied. "We're talking about an animal that normally
travels 40 miles throughout the day. Living is doing things. All of the Navy dolphins are confined to 30-by- 30-foot cages. If that's retirement, I don't ever want to retire."
And that scenario, says O'Barry, illustrates the ugly moral question raised by any dolphin in captivity, whether at SeaWorld or Umm Qasr: If these highly intelligent creatures could choose their fate, what would it be?
"Dolphins are self-aware creatures that routinely make choices and decisions about the details of their lives," he says. "They're entitled to freedom of choice - and thus they're entitled to freedom."
In the end, the only ones who can speak authoritatively on whether captive dolphins consider themselves partners or prisoners are the animals themselves. But, unlike George C. Scott's loquacious creatures in "Day of the Dolphin," they aren't talking.