Alongside the submarines, ships and airplanes participating in large-scale
military exercises in the Pacific this month, a team of sea lions and dolphins
are expected to patrol the sea.
These marine animals will be flown in from San Diego for simulated mine recovery
and mine detection during the biennial RIMPAC war games.
Six bottle-nosed dolphins would find the mines, while four California sea lions
would help recover them.
"There are a number of mechanical systems that work to some degree in
those areas, but not as well as the Navy would like them to work,'' said Tom
Lapuzza, spokesman for the Navy's Marine Mammal Program. "Unmanned vehicles
are becoming better at finding mines and being able to deal with them, but they
are still not as good as the dolphins are.''
More than 40 ships, six submarines, 160 aircraft and nearly 19,000 military
personnel are taking part in RIMPAC 2006, which runs from Monday through July
It brings together military forces from Australia, Canada, Chile, Peru, Japan,
the Republic of Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States for training
But the high-tech gadgets deployed by the military can't match the natural
skills of the dolphins and sea lions, Lapuzza said.
Sea lions have "incredibly good underwater hearing'' and can dive to 1,000
feet to attach a recovery line to a simulated mine, he said. Dolphins use their
sonar to find the mines.
"For sure the divers and unmanned vehicles are going,'' he said. "They
are thinking about taking dolphins, but are not sure they are going to do that
Opponents of the program say the military should not train animals for use
"These animals are highly sensitive, deeply intelligent creatures, and
to use them for warfare is to abuse them,'' said Wayne Johnson, who is on the
board of Animal Rights Hawaii. "These animals need to swim free.''
Marine mammals have been used by the Navy since the early 1960s.
The animals save the Navy an estimated $1 million a year, Lapuzza said.
The $15 million Marine Mammal Program has 75 dolphins and 30 sea lions at its
San Diego facility.
The four sea lions will be transported to Hawaii in cages with pools of water,
and dolphins are carried in 10-foot-long fiberglass boxes suspended in a sling
and enough water to enable them to float, Lapuzza said.
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