Since the passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) in 1972, the Navy has had to file a detailed application, subject to public scrutiny, every time it wants to capture a new group of animals. The MMPA placed the Navy's programme under the partial oversight of the Commerce Department's National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the Marine Mammal Commission, an independent US government body that monitors marine mammal research.

In 1987, the Navy succeeded in making military marine mammals 'blacker', or more highly secret, then ever before. An obscure passage in the massive 1987 Defense Authorization Act made a distinction between those animals captured for 'national defense purposes' and those taken for Navy-funded scientific research, enabling the Navy to capture up to 25 marine mammals each year without regard for the provisions of the MMPA. the only restrictions are that the animals be treated 'humanely' and that no individuals from 'depleted' species be taken.

Conservationists are concerned because the Navy captures wild dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico. The status of the bottlenose dolphin here has not been determined but several local populations may already have been drastically reduced in size due to the large numbers of dolphins which have been caught here, mainly for use in commercial dolphinariums.

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