The Swamp Stomp
Volume 19, Issue 12
When you think about military operations and tactics, a wide array of technological systems and machinery probably come to mind, but were marine mammals on your list? Many military forces across the globe, including the US Navy, have been training marine mammals for some time. Since the 1960s, the US Navy has been training sea lions and bottlenose dolphins to not only search for underwater mines and trespassers but to also search for lost equipment. The Russian navy and later the Ukrainian navy also trained bottlenose dolphins for similar work.
But what makes marine mammals so skilled at these tasks? Marine mammals exhibit many abilities that make them superior to even some of the most sophisticated military equipment available today. For starters, cetaceans (a group of animals including whales and dolphins) have incredible echolocation. With echolocation, cetaceans can send out sound waves that bounce off objects in the water, letting the animals know what is ahead. Their echolocation is far better than any available technology, especially since bottlenose dolphins can work in noisier areas than today’s technology can handle. They can even use this ability to distinguish different types of metals, which is very useful in terms of the military’s needs. Dolphins also possess one of the best memories of any animal, making them very easy to train.
Sea lions also possess some very useful abilities. The California sea lion is often trained by the US Navy to detect objects in the water. They have great eyesight and can quickly tell when something is not supposed to be there, like lost equipment or mines. They are also amphibious, which means they can function both on land and on water. This makes them very easy to train and they can be brought up on boats when needed, making them more valuable to the Navy than most other marine mammals.
Although bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions make great military animals, there are some marine mammals that do not make the cut. In 2017, Russia tried to train beluga whales to perform the same things as the bottlenose dolphins and sea lions do. However, belugas cannot handle being in the Russian waters’ lower temperatures for long periods of time.
Since the introduction of marine mammals into military operations, there has been quite a bit of success. They were used back in the Cold War by the Soviet Union to detect anything suspicious or to find lost objects like torpedoes. They have also been known to be used by the US Navy in both Gulf Wars and during Operation Enduring Freedom, in which President George Bush announced airstrikes on Al Qaeda and the Taliban shortly after the terrorist strike on September 11, 2001. Since these operations, military forces around the globe continue to train these incredibly smart animals to help military programs run smoothly and more efficiently. And next time there is any conversation about military personnel and their astonishing jobs, you can add marine mammals to the list!
“Dolphins In Defence: How Marine Mammals Are Used By The Military.” Forces Network, 29 Apr. 2019, www.forces.net/news/dolphins-defence-how-military-uses-marine-mammals.
Lee, Jane J. “Military Whales, and Dolphins: What Do They Do and Who Uses Them?” National Geographic, National Geographic Society, 3 May 2019, news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/03/140328-navy-dolphin-sea-lion-combat-ocean-animal-science/.