...and let slip the dolphins of war.
For context: I'm Canadian.
Last week, my co-workers and I were discussing the US Navy's use of trained dolphins to find underwater mines. (National Geographic | Globe and Mail) The dolphins swim around, find the mines, and mark them with floats. Apparently, the Navy has been training dolphins and other marine mammals -- sea lions, beluga whales, killer whales -- for 30 or 40 years. (I read a couple different figures.)
Our first reaction to this was quite negative: oh, the poor dolphins, how can they do this? It's not right, etc. Then someone raised the question of dogs, working in similar situations. That didn't bother us much at all.
So, now I wonder why. Part of it, I think, has to do with intelligence. Lay wisdom is that dolphins are very smart, nearly as smart as us. I don't know what the received scientific wisdom is; I didn't look it up as I'm trying to figure out why I feel a certain way, not how I should feel. But we tend, I believe, to think of dolphins as closer to our equals than dogs. Maybe if shared territory with dolphins in the same way as we do dogs, we'd feel differently.
Another factor is domestication. We've had a long, personal relationship with dogs and horses, so that we think of them as our friends and partners, but also our servants. So we -- and of course I'm generalizing here -- don't feel so badly about having them work alongside of us in dangerous situations. But dolphins are relative strangers to us. And so it feels different to me. Like we're encroaching.
Plus, dolphins are hella cute. That counts for a lot in how we feel, even if it shouldn't.
But in the end, I'm not sure I'm justified thinking it's okay for dogs and horses to go off to war with us but not dolphins. (I mean, as much as I think it's okay for anyone to go off to war.) I remain waffly and confused.