Navy Dolphins Clear Port for Humanitarian Ships
- Grades: 3–5, 6–8
By Suzanne Freeman
A dolphin named K-dog leaps out of the water in front of Sgt. Andrew Garrett. (Photo: US Navy/Brien Aho)
Wednesday, March 26—Two Atlantic bottle-nosed dolphins were deployed by the Navy to the Persian Gulf today. The two specially trained dolphins are searching the waters for explosives around the port city of Umm Qasr.
Makai, 33, and Tacoma, 22, both males, use their natural sonar abilities to locate mines and mark them with floats. The dolphins are working in the Khor Abdullah waterway to clear a path for the first ship carrying humanitarian aid, Britain's Sir Galahad.
The Navy has 20 trained dolphins as part of the Marine Mammal Project based in San Diego, California. Nine of those dolphins were flown to the Persian Gulf recently. They are staying in specially built tanks aboard a U.S. warship.
Makai and Tacoma were flown by helicopter in special travel sleeves to the port at Umm Qasr. Both were doused with water on the trip.
The Navy dolphins are taught to avoid touching the mines, which could cause them to explode. According to one bomb-disposal expert, the dolphins are more at risk from local dolphins than the mines. Dolphins are territorial and could drive away the two newcomers.
"They are like children really," Tacoma's handler, Petty Officer Taylor Whitaker, told reporters. "They are keen and work very hard and very effectively, but sometimes they can have a bad day and they do not do so well. Tacoma is one of the most vocal ones we have and one of the best at his job." Whitaker is only 1 year older than Tacoma.
Dolphins have a long history with the Navy. They were used to protect warships from enemy divers during the Vietnam war in the 1960s. They were also used to plant mines on enemy vessels during the Cold War.