Navy Photo by Illustrator Draftsman 1st Class Pierre G. Georges
Just off Key West, an elite team of Navy special operators have spent the last three weeks learning how to sweep mines on the ocean floor. Their job is to drop transponders where the mines are located so mine countermeasures crews can safely retrieve them. And with any luck, they'll eliminate undersea mines as a threat to naval ships and personnel.
But these are no ordinary special operators: they're actually Atlantic bottlenose dolphins that serve in the Navy's Marine Mammal program, headquartered at SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific in San Diego.
“They're really good at finding stuff," Bob Olds, business manager at the Marine Mammal program, told WLRN. "Probably their most impressive capability is their ability to find objects that are completely buried underneath the seafloor."
The Marine Mammal program has been operational since the 1960s. In 1970, five Navy dolphins were deployed to ward off enemy swimmers around an Army ammo dump in Vietnam's Cam Ranh Bay. The Navy has deploying dolphins downrange to seek out mines since at least 2003, when they were used to expose mines in the Persian Gulf during the early months of the Iraq War.
The Marine Mammal program currently has 85 dolphins and 50 sea lions in its ranks, according to Business Insider, and the promise of $14 million a year in funding from the Pentagon through 2020. And with good reason, as Business Insider points out:
The sea mammals make attractive military assets because of their intelligence and trainability — as well as their speed in the water, and an echolocation ability that far outperforms the best electronic competitors. "The reason they're used is that they have abilities that are unmatched still by anything man-made," [SPAWAR spokesman Ed] Budzyna said.
Dolphins emit vocalizations and then closely listen for how the sounds bounce back. That gives them an idea of their surroundings, and even lets them figure out what kind of metal they might be swimming near, according to a program spokesperson speaking with National Geographic News. This makes dolphins especially useful for identifying underwater mines.
Though the Navy hopes one day to replace living disposal teams with machines for the dangerous task of minesweeping, the dolphins are able to do what technology can't, using echolocation to find the mines on the seafloor.
"They're amazing, to watch these animals work and do the job that they do," Cmdr. John Fairweather told WLRN. "They're part of the whole team of special operations and they have their niche to fill."
Benjamin Franklin nailed it when he said, "Fatigue is the best pillow." True story, Benny. There's nothing like pushing your body so far past exhaustion that you'd willingly, even longingly, take a nap on a concrete slab.
An AH-64D Longbow Apache helicopter lands during a combined arms demonstration as part of South Carolina National Guard Air & Ground Expo 2009 at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C., Oct. 10, 2009. (U.S. Army/Sgt. Roberto Di Giovine)
Welcome to Confessions Of, an occaisional series where Task & Purpose's James Clark solicits hilarious, embarrassing, and revealing stories from troops and vets about their job, billet, or a tour overseas. Are you in an interesting assignment and think you might have something to share? Email email@example.com with your story.
"Nothing is more powerful than a young boy's wish. Except an Apache helicopter. An Apache helicopter has machine guns and missiles. It is an unbelievably impressive complement of weaponry, an absolute death machine."
James Jackson, right, confers with his lawyer during a hearing in criminal court, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019, in New York. Jackson, a white supremacist, pled guilty Wednesday to killing a black man with a sword as part of a racist plot that prosecutors described as a hate crime. He faces life in prison when he is sentenced on Feb. 13. (Associated Press/Bebeto Matthews)
White supremacist James Jackson – accused of trying to start a race war by killing a homeless black man in Times Square with a sword — pleaded guilty Wednesday to murder as an act of terrorism.
A soldier plugs his ears during a live fire mission at Yakima Training Center. Photo: Capt. Leslie Reed/U.S. Army
A Texas veteran is suing the company he says knowingly produced and sold defective earplugs which were issued to the U.S. military, leading him and many others to develop hearing problems, including tinnitus.