Capital vs. Fishy Labor

Sometimes higher productivity costs jobs.

Like travel agents and many assembly-line workers, some Navy workers are going to have their jobs replaced by computers and robots. Only this time the displaced workers are military-trained sea lions and bottlenose dolphins. The Navy has a $28 million program to train marine mammals to detect enemy mines and patrol for enemy divers.

But now the Navy has developed a 12-foot torpedo-shaped robot that runs for 24 hours straight and can spot mines as well as the dolphins. And unlike dolphins, which take seven years to train, these robots can be manufactured in a matter of weeks. For years the Navy has been training dolphins to find and mark mines. This is important: since 1950 enemy mines destroyed or damaged 14 Navy ships. With Iran threatening to mine the Strait of Hormuz, mines are a hot topic.

So 24 of the Navy’s 80 dolphins will be reassigned to other tasks. (Cynics might say they are being “re-porpoised.”) For the time being, the sea lions’ jobs are safe. They are especially effective at identifying and interdicting enemy divers—attaching a non-removable cuff to a diver’s leg, which allows a nearby security detail to “reel him in.” Right now sea lions are the only non-lethal interdiction system the Navy has. Submersible robots aren’t very good at this, yet.

But don’t worry about the displaced workers. The Navy is responsible for their care throughout their lives. Sometimes the animals are loaned to animal parks like Sea World. But I can’t help imagining the dolphins swimming away from their home base, turning back, and squeaking: “So long, and thanks for all the fish.”

Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA

Chief Investment Officer

Follow me on Twitter <a href="" target="_blank">@GlobalMarketUpd</a>

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