War Dolphins

As military personnel go they’re a bit on the wet side and couldn’t even manage one press up let alone 50.

But the army of dolphins and sea lions who assist the U.S. Navy as part of its Marine Mammal Program are utterly essential none the less.

Just as the Army uses patrol dogs to sniff out explosives, the Navy uses these mammals to hunt out dangerous sea mines, which could destroy ships and sailors if left to explode.

Dolphins and sea lions are the animals of choice because of their unique sensory and diving capabilities.

Dolphins are able to locate and mark sea mines using their sonar, which has proven much more sophisticated than any man-made detection device.

While sea lions have excellent low-light vision and pin-sharp underwater hearing. They can also go onto the shore if necessary.

What’s more both animals are never going to get ‘the bends’ – decompression sickness – as humans do after a deep-water dive.

The Navy began to work with marine mammals in the late 1950s, at first studying the hydrodynamics of dolphins in order to improve torpedo, ship and submarine designs.

But it soon realised the mammals could be valuable assistants to divers working in open waters because they were highly reliable, adaptable and could be trained to search for, detect and mark the location of objects in the water.

The programme was born. In the early days the Navy tried working with all sorts of whales including killer whales, Steller sea lions, grey and fur seals.

Other animals were also used in a raft of studies from the detection of personnel from downed aircraft to creating effective shark deterrents to protect them until they could be rescued.

Before these animal missions became declassified in the early 1990s there was much speculation the Navy abused the animals they worked with.

Animal activists claimed dolphins were being used as offensive weapons and to harm humans. The Maine Mammal Commission found these allegations were false however after an investigation in 1988 and again in 1990.

Today bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions are the mammals of choice. They protect ports and Navy assets from swimmer attacks, locate and attach recovery equipment to exercise and training targets as well as locate sea mines.

They can be readied for a mission within 72 hours and on short trips will swim alongside a small boat. For longer journeys they ride shot-gun on ships or by air in planes.

Sea lions ride in special enclosures and are kept cool and wet while dolphins are kept in fleece-lined stretchers suspended in fibreglass containers filled with enough water to support the their weight.

What’s more they seem to like their work. The Navy claims to release the mammals ‘almost daily’ untethered into the open ocean. Almost all report back for duty, and only a few have not returned since the programme began.

The Navy has also developed its Dolphin Breeding Program, in which calves are born and trained to follow small boats and how to slide out of the water onto beaching trays before being ready for service.

The programme has meant that no wild mammals have been captured since 1988.

But it’s not all work and no play and at the end of a long day’s training the calves’ mothers take a well deserved nap while their offspring enjoy a game of tag and chase.

Source: Daily Mail

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