John CotÃ© / San Francisco Chronicle – 2010-05-19 12:37:39
Navy to Showcase Trained Marine Mammals in Bay
John CotÃ© / San Francisco Chronicle
“Dolphins deserve to be in the wild on their own terms.”
— Mark Berman of Earth Island Institute’s International Marine Mammal Project, criticizing the Pentagon’s program of using marine mammals for military purposes.
SAN FRANCISCO (May 18, 2010) — Dolphins that can detect mines buried on the seafloor. Sea lions trained to cuff the leg of a waterborne saboteur. It sounds like the stuff of a James Bond film, or at least Austin Powers. It’s actually the culmination of more than 40 years of US Navy research that will be showcased today as part of a statewide exercise simulating suspected terrorist attacks on ports.
Federal officials are seeing how the specially trained sea mammals, previously used almost exclusively for military operations, could be employed to help thwart a domestic terror attack.
“We are really putting our first foot forward in developing relationships with Homeland Security,” said Fred Jolly, who manages the team of animal handlers from the Navy Marine Mammal Program that came to San Francisco. “We are really at the forefront on what we can do domestically.”
Look for the Atlantic bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions to steal the show during the three-day simulation that will have hundreds of state, local and federal officials practicing their disaster response.
Details of this year’s scenario have not been released, but it will include a diver playing a saboteur attaching a fake limpet mine on a pier near AT&T Park, said Tom LaPuzza, spokesman for the Navy Marine Mammal Program.
Mine, diver detection
A specially trained sea lion will then be released to find the mine, swim back to his handlers, alert them to his discovery, then mark the spot so a Navy diver can find and remove the bomb, LaPuzza said.
Trained dolphins, whose internal sonar allows them to tell from 100 yards away through ink-black water what direction a diver is facing, will then try to track the submerged saboteur and indicate his location with a marker to alert the surface patrol, LaPuzza said.
Finally, a sea lion carrying in its mouth a specially designed leg cuff attached to a rope is supposed to clamp the cuff onto the diver’s leg, allowing authorities to reel in their suspect, officials said.
Other trained dolphins can find buried mines using their sonar or attach explosives to the anchor chain tethering a mine to the ocean floor. “I go to work every day with a sense of astonishment with what we are capable of doing,” Jolly said.
The animals have been used since 1970, when dolphins were brought in to help protect an Army ammunition pier in Cam Ranh Bay that had been repeatedly blown up during the Vietnam War. The dolphins “were in Vietnam for six months. The pier was never blown up while they were there,” LaPuzza said. “As soon as they left, it was.”
Tracking the animal’s success rate is somewhat difficult, because officials say their presence alone is a deterrent.
Dolphins were brought to Bahrain in 1987 to protect a US flagship anchored in Manama Harbor.
“The Third Fleet commander went to a cocktail party and, louder than he needed to, said that, ‘Navy swim-defense dolphins are protecting my ship at night,'” LaPuzza said. “After that point, swimming in the harbor stopped.” The same type of dolphins were deployed during the 1996 Republican National Convention in San Diego.
In 2003, at the outset of the Iraq War, dolphins were brought in to clear mines from the Umm Qasr harbor to allow a humanitarian relief ship to enter. The dolphins were officially credited with finding 106 mines, although LaPuzza said he believes that total includes 100 mines found on a boat that hadn’t been deployed yet.
Based in San Diego
The program has about 80 dolphins and 30 sea lions, some with names like Viper or Iceman in a nod to the pilot call signs from the movie “Top Gun.” Its $20 million annual budget is about one percent of the military’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific $2.2 billion budget.
Most of the animals are based in San Diego and can be flown anywhere in the world in 72 hours, Jolly said. Today’s training exercise will give city officials their first glimpse of an “intriguing” tool where natural ability trumps technology, Mayor Gavin Newsom said.
“This is going to be a unique opportunity,” Newsom said.
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“Knitting-for-Dolphins” Returns to Needle
Navy Dolphin Security Proposal
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer
PUGET SOUND (February 11, 2009) — The yarn is out, the gloves are on and the women of Puget Sound-based “Knitting for Dolphins” are back.
The group that attracted international attention in 2007 with their unique, satirical protest of a Navy consideration to use trained dolphins off Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor’s submarine base plans to turn out a public hearing in SeaTac this Thursday, this time over the Navy’s proposed “swimmer interdiction system” for the Hood Canal area off Bangor.
The group is knitting sweaters for the dolphins, or perhaps the proposed sea lions, to wear in the area’s chill waters and present them to Navy officials.
“The spirit is alive and the knitting needles need to be taken up again, and they will be, (although) our fingers are still cold due to the snow we had this winter,” Toni S. Frohoff, a marine mammal biologist and the group’s official scientific advisor, said late Tuesday.
Frohoff, who calls herself the group’s “straight-man” said they plan to knit and purl dolphin sweaters through the hearing “because the dolphins are probably going to come from Florida waters,” Frohoff said.
In a press release, the group recalls the “international splash” it made in 2007 when it it needled a “tragically ludicrous plan to bring Atlantic bottlenose dolphins to the frigid waters of Puget Sound.” Women in chapters around the country responded, with a group bundled up in layers in the Pacific Northwest contrasting itself with other kniters clad in bikinis in Florida.
The Navy says the Swimmer Interdiction System, or SISS, would add security capabilities to its waterfront in Hood Canal, especially in location and idenfiying potential surface and underwater intruders for harbor security.
Navy officials say that for the past two years Navy scientists, engineers, security and environmental experts have studied potential environmental effects of establishing the SISS with five possible outcomes, including “No Action” to continue current measures as they are, but four alternatives:
1) using trained Navy dolphins and sea lions, the preferred alternative;
2) using sea lions only;
3) using combat swimmers; and
4) using remotely operated vehicles.
The Navy published a Draft Environmental Impact Statement in late December 2008, that included detailed explanations of each alternative would work and analyses of environmental effects.
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Navy-trained Sea Lions, Dolphins
Participate in Anti-terrorism Training Exercises
Los Angeles Times
SAN FRANCISCO (May 18, 2010) — A Navy seal — actually a sea lion — took less than a minute to find a fake mine under a pier near AT&T Park.
A dolphin quickly located a terrorist lurking in the black water before another sea lion, using a device carried in its mouth, cuffed the pretend saboteur’s ankle so authorities could reel him in.
The specially trained Navy Marine Mammals, based in San Diego, stole the show in a day of anti-terrorism training exercises held at ports throughout California.
More than 3,000 local, state and federal responders are participating in the scenarios that began Tuesday as part of California’s annual two-day homeland security and disaster preparedness exercises started by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004.
The drills include a fake attack on a container ship at the Port of Oakland, a fake bomb explosion at the Port of Redwood City, and fake terrorist attacks in waters off Los Angeles, Long Beach, Sacramento and San Diego.
California is home to 11 ports that handle 60% of the nation’s container shipping traffic, said Tom LaPuzza, a spokesman for the Navy Marine Mammals program.
“Security is of vital importance,” he said. “And humans are very slow in the water. Sea lions can see five times as well. And dolphins can use their sonar to spot items that would take humans days or weeks to find.”
The marine mammal program is several decades old. LaPuzza said dolphins and sea lions were used during the Vietnam War and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
None of the animals have been harmed in the anti-terrorist work. They never have to carry potentially catastrophic mines.
Instead, they find the devices and place markers on them before Navy divers retrieve and defuse the devices.