Jun 14

Navy Seals Deployed to Conflict Zones

For more than fifty years, the US Navy has enlisted sea lions, dolphins and other marine mammals as an elite corps of underwater sentries, searchers and mine-sweepers. They are considered to be one of the most accurate and reliable counter-terrorism detection systems in use today.

animals in war, sea lions, conflict zones

Animals such as California Sea Lions used in conflict zones

The Marine Mammal Program started in the 1960’s when weapons researchers studied a Pacific white-sided dolphin named Notty to see if they could learn from her how to design faster torpedoes. Since then the navy has remained intrigued by sea mammals; their speed, stealth, intelligence and sonar capabilities. The program, which is headquartered at the Point Loma Naval Base in San Diego, remained top secret until it was declassified in the 1990’s.

During the Vietnam War, specially trained dolphins were deployed to protect ships in Cam Ranh Bay. The Navy denies that they were dispatched to kill enemy divers as part of a “swimmer nullification program”, though more recently sea lions have been trained to “attach restraint devices to swimmers.”

A MK_5 California Sea lion attaches reclvery hardware to simulator

A MK_5 California Sea lion attaches reclvery hardware to simulator

Since the 1970s, the Marine Mammal Program has continually evolved and expanded to include beluga whales, seals and killer whales. though Dolphins and Californa sea lions remain the two mainstays due to  “their  trainability, adaptability, and heartiness in the marine environment.”

The Navy says its 100 or so marine mammals’ primary missions are mine-hunting and “swimmer defense.” A specially converted C-130 cargo plane allows for both animals and their handlers to be deployed anywhere on earth within a matter of 72 hours, Dolphins were first deployed to the Persian Gulf in the late 1980s. In 1996, Navy dolphins assisted the Secret Service during the Republican National Convention in their home port of San Diego, and NASA reportedly expressed interest in using sea lions to protect Space Shuttle launches.

sea lions and marine mammals trained for military purposes

A sea lion returns to the RIB after completing a naval training exercise

More recently, both dolphins and sea lions have been deployed to the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea to help clear mines and guard ships. The Navy has hailed “swimmer defense dolphins” as “a strong deterrent against terrorist attacks” like the one on the USS Cole in 2000. Dolphins were particularly effective during the Iraq war in mine detection and clearance roles, and the veterans of those operations are today guarding nuclear submarines in their home ports in Washington and Connecticut.

marine mammals at war

Scenes reminiscent of dolphins captured in Taiji

Program director Mike Rothe says he is very much aware of the dangers involved and the risks he takes in putting these animals in harms way. He justifies it by pointing to the use of bomb detection K9 units that are used by military and policing forces around the world. The fact is, these marine mammals are saving human lives.

The program is not entirely without its critics though. We for one feel that if the US government can send an unmanned rover into space, land it on Mars and send it off to collect and analyse rock samples …then what is stopping them from developing an unmanned craft that can act as a submersible drone on our very own planet? Why put lives, whether animal or human at risk, when the technological advances should be more than capable of doing a better job than that of a trained wild animal?