Diver Drowning in Navy Dolphin Program Should Never Have Happened

by on May 6, 2014 · 21 comments

in Environment, History, Media, Military, Ocean Beach, San Diego, War and Peace, World News

101013-N-0363B-063 Failed Program Has Drowned Dozens of Dolphins and Now San Diego Civilian

By Rick Trout / May 6, 2014

The recent drowning of Navy dolphin worker/Science Application International Corp. employee, 29 year old Coll Perske, during nighttime rehearsals for deployment of American dolphins into Black Sea waters near Ukraine’s turbulent coast is made even more tragic knowing that Congress tried to eliminate this ill-conceived program in 1992.

Then retired Admiral Eugene Carroll testified that the Navy’s dolphin program was a “flawed weapon/defense system that jeopardized national security” and gave him no confidence that any of his sailors “would sleep peacefully on a Trident nuclear sub guarded by Flipper!” Admiral Carroll understood that marine mammal intelligence and military intelligence are mutually exclusive given that wild dolphins, however trainable, are still juvenile delinquents in grey suits.

In my capacity as an SAIC/Navy dolphin trainer and dive supervisor for the deployment of dolphins to the Persian Gulf during Bush Sr.’s Iraq involvement in l987, I reached the same conclusion. During similar week-long nighttime rehearsals playing the role of an “enemy diver”, not one night went as planned in the dark back bay waters of San Diego/Coronado Bay.

Dolphins spooked, went AWOL and swam back to Coronado home cages.

Contrary to the assurances of spokesperson Jim Fallin, dolphins were often out of sight and out of control. The only dolphin who came close to ramming me as intended with the unarmed nose cone weapon device looked at me, simply dropped the device in front of me and swam away. That device, designed to eject a 45 caliber bullet on contact, was upgraded from Viet Nam war days when a needle would inject CO2 and explode (“nullify”) enemy divers. Again Mr. Fallin forgets that 2 of our guys were mistakenly taken out by the “Swimmer Nullification Program” now called “Swimmer Interdiction Program”. Coll was not the first human casualty of this unreliable program.

On my final night I quizzed program director, Les Bivens saying, “This doesn’t work, does it?” He answered, “We know that.” When I asked, “Then why are we here and more importantly why are the dolphins here?” Mr. Bivens offered, “This is just a deterrent.”

I told him I would go back to Florida and return with crocodiles, alligators and sharks … that would be a deterrent!!!

If this program was so impressive and “gifted with Mother Nature’s sonar” as the San Diego Union Tribune glowingly reported, then why weren’t veteran dolphins and handlers sent to help find the Malaysian 777 airliner in the Indian Ocean that was emanating the same kind of pinger sounds the marine mammals are trained to detect in San Diego Bay? More reliable U.S. Navy assets were sent instead.

Federal records show the Navy and SAIC have wasted millions in tax dollars while drowning dozens of dolphins in so-called “training accidents” and now tragically this young civilian. I hope OSHA officials are able to get unfiltered information to help Coll’s family understand how and why their son perished. There is undoubtedly more to the story than has been forthcoming.

Coll Perske, his family, and our military have been ill-served by Science Application International Corp. who has had the scientific application (side scan sonar & underwater drones) to replace the dolphin program which Congress knew in ’92 jeopardizes national security. Hopefully Commander Rothenhaus and SAIC’s condolences include recommending that Defense Secretary Hagel cancel the bizarre deployment of American dolphins to face off Russian dolphins and terminate this Swimmer Nullification/Interdiction Program that should have been shelved decades ago.

Rick Trout is an ex SAIC/Navy dolphin/sea lion trainer ’85-89 San Diego, and Lead rescuer/founder Marine Mammal Conservancy 1990-2005 Key Largo, Fl.

 PLEASE forward this editorial to others and write your Congressman/woman and Secretary Chuck Hagel @  1400 Defense Pentagon,  Washington D. C. 20301-1400

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Dan Shay May 6, 2014 at 2:42 pm

Good Article. That program has always fascinated me and I motor past those enclosures fairly often. I figured it worked pretty well, so this article was enlightening. I guess it is not a surprise that the government is wasting money on a program that does not work. Maybe they will cancel it one day. Blackfish 2 maybe?


john May 6, 2014 at 5:49 pm

I really hope you don’t believe this article. Statements are made with no evidence that are absolutely ridiculous.

For example ” nighttime rehearsals for deployment of American dolphins into Black Sea waters near Ukraine’s turbulent coast ”

So the US is sending military forces against Russia, and Rick Trout who worked here 25 YEARS AGO seems to have insider knowledge still? Really?

Also dozens of dolphin drownings? Please provide some evidence.

Either way the purpose of this article is not related to the death. This article is simply using a tragic incident to promote animal activist ideas of Rick Trout against the Navy. (do a quick google search)

If you want to end this program that’s fine but using someones death for your personal agenda is completely unnecessary. Also making outlandish claims that appear just to be made up makes this article a long rant at best and definitely not a news story. End of my rant.

My condolences to the family and friends.


Frank Gormlie May 6, 2014 at 8:10 pm

The death is directly related to the flawed program. Isn’t it very human to learn from our mistakes? Dolphins learn from theirs. So when a human life is taken during the exercise of a program whose critics call wasteful and deadly, isn’t it the time to reinforce those efforts to do away with it? How do you do that? You take the tragic accident and try to figure out what the hell happened. So, here comes Rick, who says he knows some of those very same dolphins and knows the flaws of the program and is in fact campaigning to get rid of it. He’s not gaining any monies from this. He’s trying to awaken people to the roots of the problem – this program should end, period.


john May 6, 2014 at 9:33 pm

Frank – I realize that many people disagree with the program due to its use of animals, and they are entitled to their opinion.

However your first sentence is entirely based on speculation and is most likely incorrect. Yes it is true that he died at work, but besides that there is nothing indicating that “The death is directly related to the flawed program” as you stated.

In fact the only information released was that the animals were not involved at the time which tends to indicate it was a tragic accident unrelated to the program. Unless you were present, which I’m guessing you were not, I think it is best to wait until the investigation is complete before jumping to conclusions.

I agree that we do learn from our mistakes, and that is why I’m guessing the program has changed significantly in the last 25 years since Mr. Trout has had any involvement.

Also you stated that dolphins learn from their mistakes. Are you an animal trainer or behavioral specialist? Maybe they do but that statement is completely irrelevant, and only serves as a tool to anthropomorphize the dolphins in the favor of your argument to end the program.

I could go on and on about how this article is almost entirely based on assumptions and emotions rather than any substantial facts or evidence. I really could care less about the rants by Rick Trout, and his opinion of the program.

However it is very frustrating to see people use a tragic event for their benefit when it is unrelated. Also notice that no where earlier or now did I state it was for any monetary gain.


Barb Dunsmore May 6, 2014 at 9:02 pm

The US Navy deploying combat dolphins to the Black Sea has been public knowledge for a few weeks now John.

US Navy to deploy combat dolphins for Black Sea military drills – report



john May 6, 2014 at 9:42 pm

Fair enough. Thank you for that. I still believe that this article is low on logic and high on crazy.


Steve May 8, 2014 at 5:19 pm

The above article quotes Tom LaPuzza as the source for this info. LaPuzza has long since retired as spokesperson for this program. It’s just falsified info.



karen May 6, 2014 at 3:09 pm

Rick – you have no idea what you are talking about. I won’t even go into detail. Please don’t blather on and torment Coll’s family and friends with your unhelpful comments.


Rick Trout May 6, 2014 at 7:30 pm

Karen, you obviously know exactly what I am talking about and you are correct to want to protect Coll’s family and friends at this sensitive time of grieving. I am extremely sorry for the family’s loss and yours. When the sadness and trauma of this needless tragedy passes, and it will, I hope you will consider sharing what you do know with me or someone who can help ensure it never happens again. 1992 Armed Services Committee Defense Appropriations efforts to eliminate this program are a matter of public record and you can google that language. Having been in the very same waters with some of the very same dolphins I do know that the Navy Dolphin Swimmer Nullification/Interdiction Program is a flawed, outdated waste of human, marine mammal and tax resources. I am absolutely convinced this program was never worth Coll’s life. I challenge you to convince me otherwise. Respectfully, rick trout


karen May 7, 2014 at 11:47 am

I will say it again, you do not know what you are talking about. Please make sure that you can state facts before you give your opinions. Your 25 year old experience is not relevant today.


Rick D. May 7, 2014 at 12:19 am

All — Check out the NYTimes Op-Ed piece today, May 6, by Philip Hoare, titled “Let Slip the Dolphins of War,” on exactly this topic. Nice timing!


Barb Dunsmore May 7, 2014 at 12:35 am

Yes Rick…The Tuesday, May 6, New York Times includes an op-ed article by Philip Hoare, titled “Let Slip the Dolphins of War”(page A25).
It discusses the varied use of dolphins by both the US and Russian navies, for example, Hoare writes, “There have been rumors that cetaceans have also been employed as dolphin drones, remote deliverers of death.”

It is a thoughtful piece that notes dolphin intelligence and use of language, and questions the ethics of using the animals to our own nefarious ends.

Hoare writes:
“We humans, it seems, can’t leave the natural world alone. Assuming our biblical rights of dominion, we must reshape the world in our image. So, on one hand, whales and dolphins can be sleek and cute, the stuff of Flipper and Free Willy. On the other, their intelligence can be used to do our dirty work. If man may be venal and warlike, so, too, must be his animal servants.”

You’ll find the full article on line at:


Jane Cartmill May 7, 2014 at 1:27 am

The collaboration between the Navy and Scripps Oceanographic has also been suspect in the past, with both dolphin and sea lion training, as well as the ATOC undersea acoustic testing believed to be responsible for many whale deaths and injuries. Rick Trout brought out information that needed to be made public, and paid the price for doing so. His hounding by the Office of Naval Intelligence was something to behold – back in the days when we still thought personal privacy existed. If Rick’s information was so “outlandish” it would not have been the subject of television news documentaries, countless newspaper reports, magazine articles and radio interviews where his information was deemed very credible even in the face of denials and character assassination by the Navy. That was a long time ago, yes, and that is the point. The flawed program is continuing instead of being dismantled according to the Congressional mandate.


Rick Trout May 7, 2014 at 4:23 am

John, re: drowned Navy dolphins. Every year, in compliance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, the captive industry has to send in a head count of all marine mammals held in captivity to the National Marine Fisheries Service who compiles the Marine Mammal inventory Report for each facility. You can FOIA any or all years via NMFS. All marine mammals are accounted for dead or alive with capture or birth dates. Any dead dolphin, whale or sea lion have a category for listing “cause of death”. As bizarre a concept as it is that the Navy/SAIC has found ways to drown dolphins you will be as shocked and disappointed as I was to see just how many dolphin deaths are attributed to “drowning/training accident”. Unfortunately the cage configurations with gates, the use of nets, trainer error and entanglement liabilities that captivity requires is the price these wild marine mammals pay for getting caught using our tax dollars and now taking civilian lives.


Milla de Villiers May 7, 2014 at 6:26 am

Tragic that the Coll drowned, and I am very sorry for his family and friends-there is no disputing his integrity or the fact that the wish to serve and protect your country is laudable . This should never have happened, and it is not Coll but the US Navy who is at fault.. However the fact that dozens of dolphins died is mentioned just in passing… What will it take for people to stop the cetacean abuse? Something very poignant in the dolphins’ refusal to harm humans: as the article says they brought the killing device, but dropped it instead of using it in these games of war. What are humans not getting, and how long before they realise whom they are dealing with? Incredibly sad that ‘dozens of dolphins’ drown in an exercise which they refuse to be part of: humans harming humans…while they allow themselves to be abused by jumping through hoops, playing with balls, and dragging people around in pools for ‘fun’ on command. Who are the ones with ethics and morality? The dolphins get my vote.


Frank Gormlie May 7, 2014 at 9:21 am

First SeaWorld, and next the Navy and Scripps. Ban the orca program.


Teresa Wagner May 7, 2014 at 9:52 am

I am deeply sorry about the death of Mr Perske, and send prayers to his loved ones.
I am also deeply sorry that the Navy is still taking dolphins from their natural open ocean homes and families and forcing them to be involved in war games. Let the dolphins be free. Stop using our tax dollars to force dolphins to do this work.


Maral Kalinian May 7, 2014 at 11:07 pm

Where are these dolphins being taken from? Which waters? When the program ends in 2017 where will these dolphins go?


Rick Trout May 8, 2014 at 4:39 pm

Karen, I repeat this program was not worth Coll’s life. I re-challenge you to convince me otherwise WITH FACTS, please! I like you better protecting Coll’s family and friends. Telling me a program works that never has worked with any reliability that rises to the level necessary for NATIONAL SECURITY is better done with facts than assertions. And in your case it may be better done offline with me or someone like OSHA to ensure Coll and his family’s experience is not repeated.


Patrick Lee Hord May 12, 2014 at 7:08 am

That we are discussing this and bringing it into the light – is the good news. Thank you OB Rag and Rick Trout.

I think, at one level or another, we all feel the exploitation of dolphins and whales inherently and morally wrong. To those who are attempting to refute the voracity, narrative or details of this story – the bottom line is that we are exploiting sentient beings as weapons in conflicts that we, as a species, are ostensibly unable to rise above or find alternate solutions for.

It is long past time for more expansive thinking and feeling as this planet becomes misshapen by our inability to live in some type of balance.

Patrick Lee Hord


sheryn January 22, 2016 at 12:13 am



Leave a Comment

Older Article:

Newer Article: