Marine Mammal Program Contributing to National Security > U.S. Department of Defense > Department of Defense News

Marine Mammal Program Contributing to National Security > U.S. Department of Defense > Department of Defense News

The Navy’s Marine Mammal Program uses bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions to detect, locate, and retrieve objects and threats in ports and at sea for the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.

Threats can include explosives, mines, enemy divers, and manned or unmanned surface ships and submarines.

A particularly important mission for the mammals is protecting Navy submarines, which are part of the nuclear triad, said Drew Walter, assistant secretary of defense for nuclear affairs.

Trident II missiles are currently installed on Ohio-class submarines and will be installed on future Columbia-class submarines based at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia, and Naval Base Kitsap in Bangor, Washington.

“Millions of years of evolution have given these animals extraordinary skills and detection abilities that cannot be replaced by any of today’s technologies, and probably by the new technologies that will emerge for many years to come. ” he said.

“They have an extraordinary ability to find objects even in environments of noise, seaweed, and poor visibility,” he said, adding that their hearing and vision are amazing.

For short distances, they will be trained to swim alongside small boats or ride on the boats themselves. For longer trips, the animals can be comfortably transported by sea on Navy vessels, or by air on planes or helicopters, he said.

The marine mammal program and mammal training location is the Pacific Naval Information Warfare Center in San Diego.

Earlier this month, Walter visited a training facility in San Diego and spoke with trainers, veterinarians and other support staff.

The dolphins and sea lions are given utmost care and are well-fed with the right variety of fish and vitamins, which are prepared in special kitchens, he said. They also undergo regular medical check-ups and receive the most ethical treatment.

Navy dolphins are so well cared for that they live about twice as long as other dolphins. Navy sea lions live about three times longer than sea lions in the wild.

Dolphins and sea lions can retrieve everything from lost equipment to hazardous materials that could pose a safety threat, he said. Dolphins and sea lions and their keepers sometimes work together to accomplish these tasks.

Trainers say they like to say they are partners or teams with these mammals, who are not confined and can roam in and out of the water as they please.

They are trained to find and bring back practice targets and real objects set up by their Navy handlers and teammates, he said. They are also trained to alert their handlers if they feel threatened.

The Marine Mammal Program, which began nearly 60 years ago, has not only benefited the marine service but also been extremely valuable to scientists and researchers, who have authored more than 1,200 scientific publications on marine biology and ocean behavior. It was important, Ward said.

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