David Helvarg

A Dolphin Disses War

My name's Flipper O'Reilly but you may know me as K-Dog, the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin attached to Commander Task Unit 55.4.3. My picture's been in all the papers.

Not to sound too gung-ho, but when they deployed us from our pens in San Diego and said we were green-lighted for Iraq, we were as ready as anyone to shake our flukes.

Anyway we're helping clear mines from the waters off Umm Qasr to allow for the delivery of humanitarian aide, and while I'm not strictly speaking a human that still sounds like the sort of thing no one could object to, right?

The Navy claims ours is the first combat deployment of mine-detecting dolphins, which is technically true. I did have an aunt in Vietnam who planted limpet mines in Haiphong harbor, but planting and detecting mines are totally different gigs, right?

Over the course of its 43-year marine mammal program the Navy's trained me and my predecessors to carry out a number of jobs. These have ranged from mine warfare activity to underwater recovery of ordinance, planting bugs on Soviet ships and subs during the Cold War, and doing swimmer defense in the Persian Gulf back in '87-'88. Of course, we love our work, which is really like a game to us, plus they feed us restaurant quality food, although personally I prefer wild fish to factory farmed.

Psst. Listen: while SEAL-boy's playing with that motor, you ever hear of our "wet work?" of "swimmer nullification?" Yeah, in Vietnam we used needles attached to CO2 cartridges to "nullify" over 30 enemy divers in Cam Ranh Bay, also a couple of Americans who strayed into restricted waters. Later in the war we carried out live captures, which is the only thing the Navy admits to. Today both dolphins and sea lions have specialized snout gear that includes a .45 caliber bang-stick for killing enemy swimmers.

Of course that's black ops stuff. The Navy still denies weaponizing us despite all the ex-trainers and Navy guys who've talked to reporters like you. They got some sea lions over in Bahrain right now who are showing off how they can cuff divers by the legs with a rope attachment so they can be hauled out of the water backwards.

During the Cold War the Russians had their own dolphin program, including anti-dolphin dolphins that were supposed to kill us if we came into contact with them. But after the fall of the Soviet Union they retired their dolphins and you know what they're doing now? Giving rides to autistic and handicapped kids in the Black Sea. It's some kind of therapy thing.

You know what I've been doing to help the world recently? Being exposed to the Navy's low-frequency active sonar in a controlled experiment to see if it affected me. Bottom line, I had some temporary hearing loss. I'm O.K. now, thanks, better than those dead whales in the Bahamas. So you know what the Navy plans to do in response to its findings? Get Congress to give them exemptions from the Marine Mammal Protection Act so they can claim incidental "takes" of marine mammals like me. That's their weasel term for killing noncombatant cetaceans. I swear it's enough to make a hagfish gag. You give your life to the service and they just turn their dorsal side to you.

I also don't want to keep carping, but you know what really rubs me the wrong way? The Pentagon says America has an all-volunteer military. Hell, I don't recall any recruiting pitch before they gill-netted me out of the Gulf of Mississippi.

There was talk of phasing out our program at the end of the Cold War but it turned out to be just that: talk. Today the Navy has the largest contingent of captive marine mammals in the world, 75 dolphins, 20 sea lions and two beluga whales that are on R&R right now doing a breeding gig at Seaworld. Talk about your sweet deployment. Still, over 40 dolphins, 20 sea lions and four whales have died on active duty since 1972 and many more in the program's earlier years before mortality reporting was required under the Marine Mammal Act.

I'm not denying I'm good at my job hunting mines. We've found a bunch. But you know, so are a new generation of AUVs, autonomous underwater vehicles, or robot subs. The Navy says they need a full range of options but I don't see the Air Force supplementing their predator drones with camera-toting bald eagles, or the army employing tigers to guard their tanks. Still the Navy plans to hang on to us for what they call "the foreseeable future." I mean I hate to say this, but this isn' really our war. This is a human thing. So while I keep my fixed grin for the man, inside I keep wondering, when does our tour of duty end?

[Editor's Note: For more information on this subject, please see the McSweeney's interview with Richard O'Barry, a dolphin trainer and rescuer.]

David Helvarg is author of "Blue Frontier: Saving America's Living Seas" and founder of the Blue Frontier Campaign in Washington D.C.

The Blue Frontier

And I have loved thee, Ocean! and my joy
Of youthful sports was on thy breast to be
Borne, like thy bubbles, onward; from a boy
I wantoned with thy breakers, -- they to me
Were a delight; and if the freshening sea
Made them a terror, 'twas a pleasing fear.
-- Lord Byron, 1818

Catch a wave and you're sitting on top of the world.
-- The Beach Boys, 1963
Back in 1890, just a year after the Oklahoma Land Rush, the US Census Bureau ended a key chapter in American history by declaring the nation's frontier closed. But on March 10, 1983 President Ronald Reagan, in one of the most significant and least noted acts of his administration, opened up 3.4 million square nautical miles of new territory, extending US sovereignty over a wet frontier six times the size of the Louisiana Purchase and 30 percent larger than the entire land-base of the United States -- an oceanic domain that stretches from New England's Georges Bank to beyond the outer reefs of Guam, from Dutch Harbor, Alaska to St. Croix, Virgin Islands.

But unlike our last frontier, the creation of this new blue one, our Exclusive Economic Zone (or EEZ), as Reagan called it, has failed to spark the public imagination, to inspire grand plans and visions or even to resolve the ongoing competition and struggle over our nation's maritime resources. That conflict, however, could lead either to the protection and sustainable use of America's greatest natural treasure or condemn our oceans to a final industrial onslaught of destruction.

But it's best we start with the given and the known about this, our final physical frontier. The seas cover 71 percent of the earth's surface, giving our ocean planet its blue marble appearance. While the tropical rain forests have been called the lungs of the world, the oceans actually absorb far greater amounts of carbon dioxide. Microscopic phytoplankton in the top layer of the sea act as a biological pump extracting some 2.5 billion tons of organic carbon out of the atmosphere annually (replacing it with 70 percent of the life-giving oxygen we need to survive). The top two feet of sea water contain as much heat as the entire atmosphere. Scientists who recently have come to recognize ocean currents as key to the creation of climate, clouds and weather still don't know enough about the internal workings of the sea (or have the historic records) to fully incorporate the ocean's thermodynamics into computer models of global warming. More is known about the dark side of the moon than about the depths of the oceans.

Until just over 20 years ago, photosynthesis of carbon dioxide by plankton and terrestrial plants was thought to be the basis of all organic life. Back then, in 1977, scientists aboard a deep-diving submarine off the Galapagos Islands discovered sulfurous hot water vents 8,000 feet below the surface of the sea colonized by giant tube worms, clams, white crabs and other animals that contain sulfur-burning bacteria that provide an alternative basis for sustaining life. Now NASA scientists believe similar "chemosynthetic" life-forms might exist around volcanic deep-ocean vents beneath the icy crust of the Jupiter moon Europa.

For millions of years the ocean has maintained a fecundity of life unmatched on land, an enthralling variety of creatures and wealth of protein that has in the last half century jumped from a 20 to a 90 million metric ton annual harvest for human consumption (about 16 percent of the animal protein we consume). This biomass is equal in weight to more than 900 fully armed aircraft carriers being dredged up from the world's oceans every year (as opposed to the dozen US carriers that actually sail the seas). With the technologies provided by the military, including radar, sonar, improved navigation and communications systems, satellite surveillance, stronger marine engines, nylon for netting and strengthened steel and fiberglass hulls, the world's fishing fleets have been waging a highly efficient market-driven war of extermination on a growing list of fish species and marine creatures.

As a result, the late 1990s saw a precipitous decline in the world's catch with some 70 percent of commercial fisheries now fully exploited, overexploited or at risk of collapse, according to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization.

This unsustainable killing occurs despite the fact that along with its practical role in maintaining the tides of life, our ocean planet also holds a spiritual resonance for our species, calling us back to a common waterborne birth state we've all experienced on both an individual and evolutionary basis. Our bodies, like the planet are 71 percent saltwater, our blood exactly as salty as the sea. This may explain why it's easier to fall asleep to the sound of the ocean. The rhythm of the waves is like our mother's heartbeat.

The ocean frontier still has a greater biodiversity of life than the richest terrestrial habitats on earth, including rain forests. Disrupting any part of this oceanic ecosystem, the humble spiny urchin as well as the magnificent bluefin tuna, can effect the whole in ways we still don't fully understand. Our actions on land -- over-fertilizing corn fields in Iowa or golf courses in St. Louis, running factory farms in Maryland and Alabama, dripping hydraulic fluid on LA freeways -- can (by way of watersheds, rivers and storm drains) create massive nutrient fed algal blooms and anoxic (oxygen depleted) dead zones in our coastal waters as has already occurred in the Gulf of Mexico. This is why there is a desperate need to develop and expand not only our biological knowledge of the seas, but also an active and educated political constituency to protect the oceans' living resources.

Unfortunately, today's politicians and national leaders seem to be suffering anoxia of the brain when it comes to understanding the value of our living blue frontier. In 1995, the right-wing "revolutionaries" of the 104th Congress abolished the House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee after 107 years of operation. Noted for its bipartisan commitment to marine issues, some of its oceanic responsibilities were shunted off to a subcommittee of the House Resources Committee (formerly the Natural Resources Committee).Under the Chairmanship of Congressman Don Young of Alaska, this committee was packed with Western Republicans from places like Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and Idaho, who spent more time railing against the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone then considering the plight of America's vast seas.

They also attempted to abolish the Department of Commerce without realizing that its largest division, some 8,000 people, worked for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), America's lead agency on the blue frontier. Today the Secretary of Commerce, and the man responsible for most of America's oceans policies, is Don Evans, a Texas oilman and Republican fundraiser.

For several years -- 1997, '98 and '99 -- Congress also refused to pass an "American Oceans Act" that would establish a national blue-ribbon commission to consider the plight of America's Blue Frontier. The American Petroleum Institute, not wanting to jeopardize their position of power in Washington, lobbied hard against the measure on the Hill. Navy officials, worried about new environmental players interfering in their national security projects, also quietly let it be known they didn't much like the idea.

And so the Oceans Act floundered on the shoals of commerce and defense. It finally passed last summer with a 16-member commission to be named by George W. Bush this spring. If this commission is able to take a fair and balanced view of our blue frontier, it will likely find that the fencing off of the American seas, like the fencing off of our prairies more than a century ago, has failed to slow a process of chaotic and rapacious development.

Instead of Buffalo hunters and cattlemen killing off native animals and replacing them with cows that overgraze the range and trample the rivers, we now have giant factory trawlers and draggers over-harvesting our seas and destroying bottom habitat.

In place of army forts and anti-Indian campaigns we have a post-Cold War Navy moving from blue water to brown, looking at the continental shallows and beachfront littoral, the areas where our living resources are most at risk, as their next staging area for war-fighting, extended combat exercises and coastal bombing practice.

Just as the 7th Cavalry opened up Dakota's Black Hills to profit-hungry gold miners, today's coastal real-estate developers are being given special dispensations by the Army Corps of Engineers to fill in wetlands and mangrove swamps that act as the nurseries and filters of the sea, undermining the Clean Water Act in their rush to accommodate more high priced "gold coasts."

And where once a corrupt Congress sold off the public lands to the railroad trusts for pennies on the dollar, today's Mineral Management Service holds fire-sales of off-shore oil and gas leases while Congress declares royalty holidays and tax-breaks for their friends in the offshore industry.

Still, despite today's wide-open frontier activity, the declaration of an EEZ has also provided Americans with an opportunity for a new approach to ocean stewardship: the recognition that when you claim sovereign rights over large parts of the sea, you're also taking on a higher level or responsibility for the sea's protection. It's a mission that growing numbers of coastal citizens, local governments and waterfront communities are no longer waiting patiently for Washington or even their State houses to assume.

They have begun not a grassroots campaign but a seaweed rebellion, and like the giant kelp plant, once it has found a holdfast this movement has the potential to grow at a terrific rate. It's a rebellion that can be seen from the web pages of Surfer activists, "No way Dude! We don't want your Crude!" to the clean-up, rediscovery and celebration of historic waterfronts in Portsmouth, Boston, Baltimore, Jacksonville, Galveston, San Diego, Monterey, Seattle, Seward, Hilo and hundreds of other maritime communities large and small.

It's sometimes angry environmental protests at public hearings on development and off-shore oil or fun but messy restoration projects that can aid the ocean's healing -- be they of a muddy duck pond in Rhode Island, a coastal river in Oregon or the Everglades of south Florida. It's coalitions of fishermen and conservationists, marine scientists and urban planners in the Northwest fighting to restore the wild salmon and protect its damaged habitat from rural Idaho to urban Seattle and on out to sea. It's thousands of outraged letters and newspaper editorials when the former governor of California tried to fire the conservation-oriented director of that state's Coastal Commission, and the "Vote the Coast" coalition that helped elect a more ocean-friendly administration. It's a little girl sleeping snuggled up against her stuffed dolphin or squealing with delight when her father holds her in a wave. It's the future.

For now it's an uncertain future based on a largely inchoate rebellion, not effectively organized to take the fight to every coastal state house, the halls of Congress or beyond. Still, like green phosphorescence sparkling in a wine dark sea, it's more than an illusion, more like a reconciliation of the soul among tens of millions of Americans, who have come to recognize the limitless possibilities of the living sea.

It's a damp and salty uprising aimed at nothing less than the recovery of our maritime culture and heritage, nothing less than the renewal of our journey home to the American sea.

David Helvarg is an investigative journalist, bodysurfer and diver. This article is adapted from "Blue Frontier: Saving America's Living Seas" (W. H. Freeman, April 2001).

The Three Horsemen of the Environmental Apocalypse

President-elect Bush's naming of former Colorado Attorney General Gale Norton as Interior Secretary and recently defeated Michigan Senator Spencer Abraham as Energy Secretary suggests that Republicans haven't learned from the 104th Congress of 1995, when attempts to gut environmental protections helped undermine the short-lived Gingrich revolution. The beliefs that Norton and Abraham shared about natural-resource exploitation are as close as subsurface oil and gas but completely out of whack with their departments' stated missions.

As Colorado's Attorney General from 1991 to 1998 Norton pushed programs of voluntary compliance for industrial polluters and opposed government (and voter) initiatives to counter sprawl. She has been an active advocate for "property rights," the idea that government should compensate developers when environmental laws and regulations limit their profits, while also fighting hard to protect agribusiness access to cheap federal water. Since 1999 she's worked for Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber & Strickland, a law firm that has lobbied for a range of sprawl-promoting clients, including Denver International Airport and the city's new taxpayer-financed stadium for its pro football team, the Broncos.

A four-year veteran of James Watt's Mountain States Legal Foundation, Norton continued to work for Watt after he became President Reagan's controversial ("We will mine more, drill more, cut more timber") Interior Secretary.

In 1998 Norton, along with right-wing activist and BP oil lobbyist Grover Norquist, became co-chair of the Coalition of Republican Environmental Advocates. Dedicated to "free-market environmentalism," CREA included "wise users," property-rights advocates and auto, coal, mining and developer lobbyists. Traditional GOP environmentalists like the late Senator John Chafee refused to join the group.

In 1999 Norton joined the team advising the Bush campaign on developing a conservative environmental agenda. Among those working with her was David Koch of Koch industries, which last year paid a $35 million fine for oil pollution in six states; also Lynn Scarlett, a senior fellow at the antiregulatory Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment (FREE), which according to the Washington Post lived up to its acronym by holding a series of all-expenses-paid "seminars" for federal judges at a Montana dude ranch.

Norton's commitment to begin oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) could make her the most controversial Interior Secretary since her mentor. On the other hand, the media's focus on her being a pro-choice Republican suggests she'll also support a caribou's right to abort before losing its habitat.

Working closely with Norton as Energy Secretary will be longtime Republican operative and former Dan Quayle staff aide Spencer Abraham, who only last year called for the abolition of the Energy Department (as a cost-saving measure). During his one term as senator from Michigan Abraham fought to limit fuel-efficiency requirements for SUVs, limit renewable energy research, abolish the federal gasoline tax and open up ANWR to oil drilling. While this won him a zero rating from the League of Conservation Voters, it also scored him close to $450,000 in contributions from energy and natural resources industries in his failed re-election bid. Ironically, he has now become a personal example of recycling.

Aligning with Abraham and Norton will be Don Evans, a FOG (Friend of George) oil executive and $100 million Bush fundraiser. As the next Commerce Secretary (another department Abraham wanted to abolish), Evans will oversee the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the lead agency for America's oceans (which are the source of 25 percent of our domestic oil and 26 percent of our natural gas).

If, following the lead of the oilmen in the White House, Cabinet members Norton, Abraham and Evans should choose drilling, particularly in ANWR, as their first environmental battle (something national green groups believe they will), they could quickly find themselves sinking in a political quagmire of their own creation.

The Republican Convention Disaster

With the Democrats heading to Chicago for their convention this August you can expect lots of media replays of the disastrous 1968 convention when anti-war protesters faced the wrath of Mayor Daley's riot police, and Hubert Humphry realized the Vietnam war was now his albatross to wear. But when the Republicans show up in San Diego who's going to recall the 1972 convention disaster that almost was? Or remember how the Nixon administration's flirtation with the far-right advanced the cause of terrorism.San Diego was supposed to be Richard Nixon's "Lucky City," a Navy town with a world famous zoo and a new mayor named Pete Wilson. Local boosters saw the planned Republican convention as the biggest thing to happen to San Diego since the Pan-American Expo. Then suddenly, in May of '72, less than 90 days before the opening gavel, Republican National Committee Chair Bob Dole announced the convention would be relocating to Miami.At the time the media pointed to two possible reasons for the party's sudden change of heart. One was the embarrassment caused by Dita Beard, an ITT lobbyist who'd written a secret memo (leaked to Jack Anderson) that the way to get the Department of Justice to drop an antitrust investigation was for ITT to contribute $400,000 to the convention. San Diego's new ITT Sheraton was to be Nixon's headquarters during the convention.The other reason cited was fear that more than a quarter million young anti-war demonstrators would descend on the city when the Republicans arrived in August. Certainly those organizing the protests were confident that a combination of anti-war, anti-Nixon sentiment among young people and the lure of a summer week on the beaches of southern California would guarantee a massive turnout. An internal Justice Department study claimed that the San Diego Police were not well trained in the handling of large demonstrations and predicted a high probability of violence.Violence was in fact taking place months before the convention was scheduled to arrive, inspired both by an FBI directed right-wing terror network and Nixon's own White House Plumbers.In the 1960s the Minutemen was a right-wing paramilitary outfit that believed the U.S. government was overrun by communist infiltrators and that an underground patriot army had to be formed to fight a guerilla war against the reds. When they began to carry out bank robberies to finance their activities they were infiltrated and broken up by the FBI. In 1970 veterans of the Minutemen met secretly in Arizona to form a new paramilitary outfit called the Secret Army Organization. San Diego, with some 30 members, soon emerged as the most active SAO chapter in the nation under the leadership of an unemployed contractor named Jerry Lynn Davis and a fireman named Howard Berry Godfrey. Godfrey was also an FBI informant.Godfrey, it turned out, had been working for the FBI as a Minuteman informant since 1967 when he'd been arrested for brandishing a gun during a traffic dispute and possession of explosives the police found when they went to search his home. As an SAO State Commander he recruited new members from the Mormon church in which he and several of his FBI handlers were active. As the SAO's intelligence officer he also provided the terrorist group with FBI funds and information on San Diego's anti-war organizers.In late 1971 and early 1972 activists organizing protests at the upcoming Republican convention became the target of death threats, tear-gas attacks, vandalism and firebombings. On the night of January 6, 1972, Godfrey and fellow SAO member George "Mickey" Hoover cruised past the home of one of the activists in the Ocean Beach section of the city. Hoover fired two shots from a stolen 9-millimeter pistol into the house, seriously wounding a young woman named Paula Tharp. The next day Godfrey gave the weapon to his FBI control agent Steve Christiansen who hid it under his couch for the next six months.Meanwhile the Republicans were getting nervous about the local intelligence they were receiving. On February 18, 1972, the day Nixon left for his historic trip to China, Godfrey published a poster of Nixon reading, "Wanted for Treason" accusing the President and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger of conspiring with the Red Chinese to betray the United States. The SAO distributed the poster in 15 cities (the FBI reimbursed Godfrey for the printing costs). The SAO which had by now begun warehousing rifles, mortar rounds, land-mines and explosives in garages around the city discussed how they might take turns mortaring the protesters outside and the Republicans inside the Convention Center. Meanwhile White House plumber G. Gordon Liddy was simultaneously developing his own plans involving the kidnapping of anti-war leaders in San Diego. In May the Republican National Committee, worried about growing security issues, pulled the plug on San Diego as the site for their convention.A month later William Yakopec, an SAO member who'd been recruited into the group by the FBI's Godfrey, bombed the Guild, a local porno theater. The bomb blew out the screen, showering debris on theater patrons including a deputy city attorney and two vice cops. Soon more than a dozen SAO members had been rounded up and jailed. At that point the SAO began plotting to assassinate San Diego's police chief, local ATF agents and other government officials they thought had gone over to the side of the communists.Godfrey's testimony helped send several of his confederates to prison. Jerry Lynn Davis and other SAOers then began talking to local reporters about meetings at the "Gunsmoke Ranch" a shooting range outside San Diego, where Godfrey had introduced them to a man named Donald Simms, who Davis later identified as Donald Segretti, Liddy's White House operative. Segretti and the SAO apparently discussed plans to kidnap activists to Mexico where they would be killed and their bodies dumped.The FBI directed Agent Christiensen not to answer grand jury questions relating to the Paula Tharp shooting and the gun he'd hidden, then pensioned him off to Utah. Godfrey, who they shielded from any criminal charges, was given a job as a California arson investigator. Eighteen years later he was arrested for planting and then disarming pipe-bombs in the small rural town where he worked (and where he'd just broken up with his girlfriend). This time he was sentenced to 90 days psychiatric observation.Interviewed at a Soldier of Fortune convention in October, 1995 convicted Watergate burglar turned radio talk-show host G. Gordon Liddy told San Diego magazine, that as far as targeting anti-war activists, "I would have grabbed them doped 'em up, taken them to Mexico and then released them none the worse for wear after the convention was over." Or perhaps, as he's suggested on his radio show in regards to ATF agents, he would have encouraged the SAO to, "shoot for the head."Oddly, the Republican Party arriving in a San Diego this summer is not so different from the one that failed to make the show 24 years ago. San Diego's ex-Mayor, now Governor Pete Wilson, will greet his fellow delegates with warm welcomes and harsh attacks on affirmative action and illegal immigrants. Nixon speechwriter Pat Buchanan will be there to carry the banner for the Party's hard right, while 1972 party chairman, now presidential candidate, Bob Dole will exemplify the thwarted "by any means necessary" ambitions of his old friend and dead mentor Dick Nixon.And with presidential candidate Buchanan, New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, Idaho representative Helen Chenoweth and other party notables openly expressing support for today's armed right-wing militias and anti-federal paranoids it's fair to ask if the forgotten lesson of '72, of attempting to manipulate the paramilitary-right to advance your own political agenda, hasn't again created something of a Frankenstein monster for the GOP, and if we won't be hearing the footfalls of that creature in the darker recesses of this year's convention hall.