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

Welcome to Wet & Wild, a  post at Danielle Meitiv’s Brave Blue Blog that explores everything fabulous and fascinating about the sea, surf, and sands of our Blue Planet. Today, I’m sharing some of the amazing stuff I’m learning as I research my new sci-fi work-in-progress. Enjoy!

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.

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

But what about the Navy’s 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.

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.

UPDATE: Check out this 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 during 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. Follow @Danielle_Meitiv on Twitter, on Google+ Danielle Luttenberg Meitiv and on Facebook: Danielle Meitiv’s Barefoot Blog, and Danielle Meitiv.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s