Wednesday Wet & Wild: Dolphins & Sea Lions Go to War

Welcome to Wednesdays Wet & Wild (formerly Wonderful Waterful Wednesdays), a weekly post at Danielle Meitiv’s Barefoot Blog that explores everything fabulous and fascinating about the sea, surf, and sands of our Blue Planet. This week, I’m sharing some of the amazing stuff I’m learning as I research my new sci-fi series.  Enjoy!

Even before they took out Bin Laden, most people were familiar with the Navy SEALs (Sea, Air and Land Teams).

But what about the sea lions? The dolphins?

No, this is not just the stuff of Hollywood. Since the late 1950’s, the U.S.Navy has studied the ways that marine mammals can aid military efforts at sea. Today, the U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program trains and deploys more than 140 dolphins and sea lions from the programs headquarters in San Diego.

Navy Dolphin K-dog
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.

The two primary species involved are the Common Bottlenose Dolphin and the California Sea Lion.

Flipper Enlists

Because of their amazing ability to use sound to navigate in the water – echolocation – bottlenose dolphins are naturals for locating people and objects in the sea, including sea mines.

Dolphins are especially helpful in the open ocean. They can make multiple deep dives without getting “the bends” or decompression sickness, which would be harmful or fatal to a human. Most recently, mine-hunting dolphins were employed in the port of Umm Qasr in southern Iraq.

Sea Lions Get Their Man

A MK 5 sea lion is about to attach the recovery hardware to a simulator.

Sea lions have been trained to locate and retrieve undersea objects. Like dolphins, they help to locate and tag mines. Unlike their dolphins comrades, sea lions don’t use echolocation, but their vision in low light and murky water makes them excellent seekers.

Sea lions have been employed to patrol around naval ships at port and to alert their human partners if human divers approach. These critters carry leg cuffs as part of their undersea equipment. If they locate a diver in the water, the sea lions attaches a cuff with a rope to the intruder’s leg, allowing humans above water to reel the trespasser in.

For more about sea lions and their cousins (as well as their mythological buddies), check out this post. To learn about dolphins and their whale pals, check this out.

BONUS: July Poster Giveaway

Love marine mammals? Then, you’re gonna LOVE this month’s special giveaway: a fabulous out-of-print NOAA poster, Marine Mammals of the Western Hemisphere. Everyone who leaves a comment between now and the end of July gets one entry in the drawing. Link to this site on your blog and get two entries.

Only one week left – get your comments in now!

UPDATE: Check out this recent CNN clip from YouTube, showing a reporter trying to evade a Navy dolphin and what the dolphin does to catch her man. Too cool!

Also – lest you worry about the health and happiness of these marine mammals (as I did), they are released into the ‘wild’ frequently for training and choose to come back everytime. 

They also live long lives with the Navy.  One female dolphin I read about was over 30 years old, with 20+ years of active service. Among the sea lions recruits is a 27-year old male who is still going strong. (The average lifespans of these critters in the wild are 25 and 17 years, respectively).

Danielle Meitiv is a writer, marine science geek, gardener and mother who goes barefoot whenever possible. Danielle is also a huge fan and sales affiliate for Holly Lisle’s online courses: How to Think Sideways: Career Survival School for Writers, and How to Revise Your Novel. Follow @Danielle_Meitiv on Twitter, on Google+ Danielle Luttenberg Meitiv and on Facebook: Danielle Meitiv’s Barefoot Blog, and Danielle Meitiv.


6 thoughts on “Wednesday Wet & Wild: Dolphins & Sea Lions Go to War

  1. Great post! I heard about the dolphins helping in this way on some show, but I had no idea the sea lions were so helpful. And to stick cuffs on an intruder, how cool is that!

  2. WoW ! I need to hire some sea lions to help me with my work 🙂 I had heard about navy using dolphins back in the eighties but had no idea about what they actually did. It is truly amazing that for best solutions we keep coming back to nature.

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