Military marine mammal
A military marine mammal is a cetacean or pinniped that has been trained for military uses. Examples include bottlenose dolphins, seals, sea lions and belugas. The United States and Soviet militaries have trained and employed oceanic dolphins for various uses. Military dolphins have been trained to rescue lost naval swimmers or to swim head first into active deep sea mines.
Russian Federation, Ukraine and Iran
After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Soviet military dolphin program was passed to the Ukrainian Navy. In March 2000 the BBC reported that the Ukrainian navy had transferred their military dolphin project from Sevastopol to Iran. Iran bought the animals and the chief trainer carried on his research at their new oceanarium.
In 2012, Ukraine allegedly "resurrected" the military dolphin program. After the 2014 annexation of Crimea, the Ukrainian dolphin program was taken over by Russia. Conflicting statements have been made regarding the fate of the dolphins. One claim is that the program had been demilitarized prior to the annexation, with all military dolphins either sold commercially or dead by natural causes. A counter-claim suggests that dolphins died patriotically after going on hunger strikes and resisting their Russian captors. Russia reportedly intended to used advanced technology to visualise the dolphin's biosonar signals in future military dolphin research.
The U.S. Navy trains dolphins and sea lions under the U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program, which is based in San Diego, California. They get some of their dolphins from the Gulf of Mexico. Military dolphins were used by the U.S. Navy during the First and Second Gulf Wars, and their use dates back to the Vietnam War. About 75 dolphins were in the program circa 2007, and around 70 dolphins and 30 sea lions were reported to be in the program in 2019.
The United States Navy implemented a program in 1960 to work with dolphins and sea lions in order to help with defense, mine detection, and the design of new submarines and new underwater weapons. The Navy did many tests with several marine mammals to determine which would be best for the jobs they needed done, with "more than 19 species...including some sharks and birds" tested, though the bottlenose dolphin and California sea lion were considered the best at what the Navy needed them for. The bottlenose dolphins' asset was their highly evolved biosonar, helping to find underwater mines, and the sea lions' asset was their impeccable underwater vision, which can help to detect enemy swimmers. In fiscal year 2007, the United States Navy spent $14 million on research on marine mammals as weapons and marine mammal training programs in object recovery and mine detection and have 75 trained dolphins. Dolphins have contributed to saving more lives in open water than specially trained life savers.
In 2005, there were press reports that some U.S. military dolphins based on Lake Pontchartrain had escaped during the Hurricane Katrina flooding. The U.S. Navy dismissed these stories as nonsense or a hoax, though they may be taking on the status of an urban myth.
Care of animals
The marine mammals used for the Navy's research and operations are cared for by a full-time staff of veterinarians, veterinarian technicians, and highly trained marine biologists.[non-primary source needed]
The dolphins and sea lions are trained by five teams of the Navy's Marine Mammal fleet members. One team specializes in swimmer detection, three teams in mine location, and another team in object recoveries. The quick-response goal of this fleet is to mobilize a team and be on site within 72 hours. Dolphins are trained much as police dogs and hunting dogs are. They are given rewards such as fish on correct completion of a task. Dolphins are trained to detect underwater mines and enemy swimmers and then report back to their handlers. Rumours that dolphins had been trained to kill divers have been denied by the US Navy, which claims that training dolphins to fight or kill humans is impossible.
Seals and sea lions
Seals and sea lions are trained and utilised by the US Navy and the Russian Navy. In Russia, dolphins and seals have been trained to carry tools for divers and detect torpedoes, mines, and other ammunition to working depths of up to 120 metres. Seals are considered better suited than belugas for military use in polar conditions due to their "high professionalism" and ability to learn, retain and understand oral commands.
In 2019, a beluga was found off the coast of Norway that was believed to have most likely been trained by the Russian Navy. The beluga, called Hvaldimir, was wearing a harness that was labeled "Equipment of St. Petersburg", seemed comfortable around humans, and attempted to pull ropes from the sides of a Norwegian fishing vessel. Beluga research was conducted by the Murmansk Sea Biology Research Institute in northern Russia on behalf of the Russian Navy. Experiments were conducted to determine whether belugas could be used to “guard entrances to naval bases’” in arctic regions and “assist deepwater divers and if necessary kill any strangers who enter their territory”. The research concluded that dolphins and seals were better suited to military use in polar conditions than belugas.
- Cetacean intelligence
- The Day of the Dolphin, a novel and later movie about training dolphins to carry out an assassination
- U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program
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