Military dolphins to guard naval base
Newest batch of sentries, which will include sea lions, will earn a salary of fresh fish.
Wed, Dec 09, 2009 at 10:22 AM
K-DOG, a bottlenose dolphin, leaps out of the water in front Sgt. Andrew Garrett while training near the USS Gunston Hall in the Arabian Gulf. (Photo: walkadog/Flickr)
When the U.S. Naval Base in Kitsap-Bangor receives its newest recruits next year, not all of them will be wearing uniforms — and they'll be paid in fish.
Up to 20 Navy-trained bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions are scheduled to begin duty patrolling the shoreline around the submarine base as part of a bolstered security initiative started after the Sept. 11 attacks. The program, which was also used during the Vietnam War, is part of a 40-year history of military-trained dolphins and sea lions. According to the Navy, none of the participants has ever been injured during their service.
The animals will be on the lookout 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for swimmers or divers in the base's restricted waters, said Tom LaPuzza, a spokesman for the Navy Marine Mammal Program. Instead of intercepting potential threats, each animal will alert its human handler to a swimmer's presence, mark his or her location, and then swim away while humans apprehend the intruder, LaPuzza said. Scientific American provides a bit more detail:
If a dolphin senses an intruder, like a swimmer or a diver, it swims up to the boat and touches a sensor to alert a handler. Then, if the handlers and military personnel decide it is necessary to investigate the threat further, the handler will place a strobe light or a noisemaker on the dolphin's nose, LaPuzza said. The dolphin is trained to swim to the intruder, bump him or her from behind — which would knock the device off its nose — and then quickly swim away while military personnel take over.
But truly, it's sea lions that "reel" in the catch so-to-speak. Individual lions are trained to approach an intruder with an open cuff and snap it around his or her leg. Then, in a move worthy of a Bond film, the attacker is dragged in from a boat on the surface with an attached tether. (Talk about embarrassing.)
The effort to enlist the marine mammals to patrol the Navy base has been in gear for almost two decades. A lack of funding and environmental concerns, however, stalled the program. Recent reviews regarding care of the new sentries — as well as how to deal with waste from the sea lions polluting shellfish harvests in the region — have eased concerns. Now, it's just a matter of introducing the new guards to their Navy brethren — and making sure there's plenty of fresh fish to hand out on payday.