- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2003

The Navy has deployed a key natural resource to the Persian Gulf: 75 mine-hunting dolphins.
The mission of the California-based U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program, as part of the Navy Special Clearance Team ONE, is to comb the waters for mines to provide safety for ships, including those containing humanitarian aid and cargo, said Tom LaPuzza, public affairs officer of the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center in San Diego.
Using their highly sensitive biological sonar, the dolphins locate the mines and alert handlers so that divers can disarm the explosives, he said. The mammals are incredibly effective, Mr. LaPuzza said.
"They don't miss anything," he said. "If a mine is there, they will find it. Nothing gets by them."
Mines will not detonate when the dolphins swim by, Mr. LaPuzza said. They can identify small objects at great distances and note tiny differences in sizes.
The search begins when handlers on a rubber boat signal for the dolphin to investigate the waters. The mammal communicates the results of the search by pushing one of two discs on the boat, one indicating that the dolphin had found nothing and the other signaling that a mine had been located.
A marking device consisting of an anchor, rope and buoy is then fitted to the dolphin through a nose cup. The mammal again dives down and pulls its nose out of the cup to release the marker near the mine.
The dolphin is removed from the area while the human divers swim down to assess the mine and then decide how to disarm it.
Dolphins can dive deep into the sea without the limitations faced by human divers, which involve depth, temperature, light and dive frequency, Mr. LaPuzza said. The reliability of the mammals ensures that they will return once deployed by the handlers.
Basic training, through the mammal program, takes about a year. A few additional years are necessary to train the dolphins for complex tasks. To cut training time, mothers of the baby dolphins are being used to help in the exercises, as the calves instinctively imitate the actions of the elders.
Employing dolphins' capabilities in wartime is not a new tactic. They were used in the Vietnam War and before the start of the 1991 Persian Gulf war as defense dolphins, alerting the Navy about intruders.
The dolphins are joined in the Gulf near Bahrain by some of the program's 20 sea lions to recover objects and divers or to notify the Navy of enemy divers. The sea lions are under observation and not on active duty, Mr. LaPuzza said.
Some animal rights groups in the nation have voiced opposition to the project, with the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals calling it cruel.
"The Navy is putting these animals intentionally in harm's way," said Stephanie Boyles, wildlife biologist at PETA. "These animals have no idea there is any danger to them, but we do. There are enough lives being lost in the war; we don't need to add another species to the list of lives being lost."

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