NIWC PACIFIC HAS A FASCINATING HISTORY OF TRAINING DOLPHINS FOR THE NAVY
By Buddy Blouin
In San Diego, California, there are many troops training and serving our country to make the world a better place and keep America that much safer. Most of them are human. Now, while you may begin to wonder what we mean by that or conjure up an image of man’s best friend, you may want to think again. Since 1959, we’ve been using dolphins to help with our missions. Today, the Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Pacific continues training dolphins for the Navy as well as sea lions. Found at 53560 Hull St., San Diego, CA 92152, NIWC Pacific calls Naval Base Point Loma home.
Suggested read:Naval Base Point Loma: In-Depth Welcome Center
Why NIWC Pacific Trains DolphinsThere's both the NIWC Atlantic and NIWC Pacific that work under the Naval Information Warfare Systems Command. Together, these organizations have many locations that can be found throughout the world and help do everything from developing unmanned underwater vehicles to deciding benefits packages. But overall, they share a common goal: to keep America safe. One of the more interesting ways the NIWC Pacific operates is by training dolphins. Through the United States Navy Marine Mammal Program, the U.S. Navy trained dolphins to save lives. The primary mission of these dolphins is to detect underwater mines. Navy dolphin training doesn’t just benefit the military either. The mines that they are used to detect also help civilian watercraft safely navigate the seas without succumbing to an explosive demise. Sea lions, on the other hand, have a different, yet important role to play. Rather than searching for underwater traps, trained sea lions are sent underwater to help secure recovery lines to equipment on the ocean floor. They’re also used to recover things at various depths for ships. Both animals possess natural advantages in operating underwater over their human counterparts. They can see better, swim faster, and ascend back up without getting “the bends.” Navy-trained dolphins save lives by keeping Sailors out of harm in multiple ways. These intelligent creatures are more than capable and help add another layer of safety to naval travel. Specifically, our military relies on bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions due to their ability to traverse many different waterways.
The NWIC Used Dolphins in the Vietnam WarThe use of dolphins in warfare has a well-established history. We used them during the Vietnam War as well as in the Persian War. In both conflicts, bottlenose dolphins were used to help detect enemy swimmers who were attempting to blow up U.S. Navy vessels that were anchored off the coast. How our Navy training dolphins helped the Sailors during Vietnam was by using their sonar to detect incoming enemies. The dolphins would swim in the area, slowly, and alert trained Sailors to their location. There was even a way for dolphins to “tag” enemies so that they could be apprehended by American Forces.
How To Become a Dolphin TrainerBecoming a dolphin trainer is a unique way to serve our country, and opportunities are available. Depending on your life path, there are marine mammal internships available to help you gain experience. Having a degree in life science as well as being scuba certified are also helpful for pursuing this career.
Did the NWIC Create Killer Dolphins?During the Vietnam War, rumors persisted that dolphins had been trained by the Navy to shoot enemy forces. As crazy as that sounds, they were already patrolling waters for bombers and mines, so who knows at this point? But the U.S. Navy has maintained its stance that this never happened. The topic would come up a bit more recently, to which the U.S. Navy still denies these rumors, but now they’ve also reached Russia, a nation that was also thought to be using killer dolphins during its invasion of Ukraine. So far, there’s no evidence of such use. After declassifying its dolphin and sea lion findings in the 90s, Russia has adopted its own program for detecting mines and other underwater operations. Yes, they use dolphins and sea lions, but it doesn’t appear it’s for much more than the same porpoises as the United States. In addition to Russian-trained dolphins and sea lions, Russian forces have also called upon the services of beluga whales and seals. Not to be confused with our SEALs; we’re talking about the animal here, of course. If the NWIC Pacific is looking for something else to do, this whole whale addition seems like a fun one. Personally, we think a group of sharks would be another nice addition. But for now, we have wonderful sea lions and Navy-trained dolphins caught on camera eating venomous sea snakes. A remarkable feat and unique connection of animals helping our military.
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