Homeland security menagerieNavy to deploy dolphins and sea lions to Washington naval base

Published 14 February 2007

Puget Sound gets ready to accept a flotilla of marine mammals; dolphins use sonar to swiftly locate maritime intruders; versitile sea lions capture them with a rope; military hopes to eventually replace them with machines

Now that we know that bees can detect explosives and fish can detect water toxic water pollutants, it comes as no surprise to learn that dolphins and sea lions — already established as comptetant mine detectors — could be used to detect and apprehend waterborne human intruders. In a notice published in this week’s Federal Register, the Navy said it would use those intelligent marine mammals to bolster security at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor in Washington State. The Navy has long been interested in such an approach — dolphins patrolled San Diego Bay during the 1996 Republican National Convention — and it currently keeps 100 of the creatures under fins, so to speak.

These animals have the capabilities for what needs to be done for this particular mission,” said Tom Lapuzza, a spokesman for the Marine Mammal Program. Dolphins, for instance, possess strong sonar abilities, making them ideal for detecting humans and objects in the water. When a working military dolphin locates something interesting, it drops a beacon and signals to Navy personell to hurry over for a full inspection. Sea lions, however, while they do not possess the same locating ability, are much more versatile in the water. While on patrol they carry within their mouths a special cuff with an extended tether. If it finds a rogue swimmer, it clamps the cuff around its leg and reels him in for questoning.

Animal rights activists are naturally upset by all this, but it is worth noting that working dolphins enjoy a life of Riley. While on duty in Washington they will be housed in state of the art heated enclosures and will only work for two hours a day. Sadly, the Navy is already looking to replace them with machines. “But the technology just isn’t there yet,” said the Navy’s Tom Lapuzza. “The value of the marine mammals is we’ve been doing this for thirty-five years and we’ve ironed out all the kinks.”

-read more in this AP report