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The US Navy has been using dolphins & sea lions to detect underwater mines since 1960

Neil Patrick

The U.S. Navy trains dolphins and sea lions under the U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program, which is based in San Diego, California. They get some of their dolphins from the Gulf of Mexico.

Military dolphins were used by the U.S. Navy during the First and Second Gulf Wars. The United States Navy implemented a program in 1960 to work with dolphins and sea lions in order to help with defense, mine detection, and design of new submarines and new underwater weapons.

The Navy did many tests with several marine mammals to determine which would be best for the jobs they needed done. “More than 19 species were tested, including some sharks and birds.”

A U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program dolphin named KDog, wearing a locating pinger, performed mine clearance work in the Persian Gulf during the Iraq War. Source:Wikipedia/Public Domain

A U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program dolphin named KDog, wearing a locating pinger, performed mine clearance work in the Persian Gulf during the Iraq War. Source:Wikipedia/Public Domain

Eventually, the bottlenose dolphin and California sea lion were shown to be the best at what the Navy needed them for. The bottlenose dolphins’ asset was their highly evolved biosonar, which helped them to find underwater mines, and the sea lions’ asset was their impeccable underwater vision, which can help to detect enemy swimmers.

In fiscal year 2007, the United States Navy spent $14 million on research into marine the use of mammals as weapons. Marine mammal training programs in object recovery and mine detection and have 75 trained dolphins. Dolphins have contributed to saving more lives in open water than specially trained life savers.

An NMMP sea lion attaches a recovery line to a piece of test equipment during training. Source:Wikipedia/Public Domain

An NMMP sea lion attaches a recovery line to a piece of test equipment during training. Source:Wikipedia/Public Domain

 

The marine mammals used for the Navy’s research and operations are cared for by a full-time staff of veterinarians, veterinarian technicians, and highly trained marine biologists. The doctors and staff are on call around the clock so that the animals always get the care that they need.

Their focus is to keep the dolphins and sea lions healthy and fit for duty with routine physicals, nutrition oversight, and extensive data collection and management.

A bottlenose dolphin responding to its trainer's hand gestures. Source:Wikipedia/Public Domain

A bottlenose dolphin responding to its trainer’s hand gestures. Source:Wikipedia/Public Domain

 

The dolphins and sea lions are trained by five teams of the Navy’s Marine Mammal fleet members. One team specializes in swimmer detection, three teams in mine location, and another team in object recoveries. The quick-response goal of this fleet is to mobilize a team and be on site within 72 hours.

Dolphins are trained much as police dogs and hunting dogs are. They are given rewards such as fish on correct completion of a task. Dolphins are trained to detect underwater mines and enemy swimmers and then report back to their handlers