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US Navy Sea lions in Iraq war

Sea Lion Soldiers
(By Gail Hennessey, SuperScience )
A special U.S. Navy team has landed at an American port in the Persian Gulf. If members of the team spot an enemy, they send out a silent warning to sailors on board nearby ships. Who are these stealthy soldiers? They're sea lions—members of the Navy's Shallow Water Intruder Detection System program.
This team of sea lions has been trained to detect danger, such as a diver swimming too close to an American ship. The enemy diver could be planning an attack. The sea lions have been taught to swim quietly up to the diver from behind. Then they snap a locking clamp onto the intruder's leg or arm. Before the enemy knows what's happened, the sea lion has already darted away. In the meantime, human sailors pull on a rope attached to the clamp to haul the diver out of the water for questioning.
Other marine mammals, such as dolphins and porpoises, have helped our troops in past wars. But unlike dolphins, sea lions don't mind the warm waters of the Persian Gulf. And, if needed, sea lions can chase the enemy onto land!
Zak leaps back into a boat following harbor patrol training with the U.S. Navy. Zak is a 375-pound California sea lion being trained to locate suspicious swimmers near piers and ships.
(U.S. Navy Photograph by Photographers Mate 2nd Class Bob Houlihan)
  • Sea Lion Stats Sea lions can see well in the dark and can dive to 650 feet.
  • Even when they're underwater, sea lions can tell where a noise is coming from.
  • These marine mammals are pinnipeds, meaning they have flippers-one pair in front and one pair in back.
  • "These are animals that, number one, have not volunteered to take part in this whatsoever. Number two, they are being put in harm's way…when they don't even know they are in harm's way,"
        Stephanie Boyles, a wildlife biologist with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) told CNN News.

    Dolphins, sea lions sent to support Iraq war
    (Apr 1, 2003)
    Two Atlantic bottlenose-dolphins — likely trained in Hawai`i — were deployed to the Middle East to help coalition forces. The dolphins, named Makai and Tacoma, were sent to the port city of Umm Qasr where they will help locate underwater mines. While there were reports over the weekend that Takoma had gone AWOL, Navy officials reported late Sunday that he'd returned about 48 hours later.

    In addition to dolphins, the Navy is also using California sea lions trained to recover unarmed practice mines and to locate underwater swimmers, and then attach a restraint device. They will participate in a demonstration of their abilities in Bahrain in the upcoming weeks, according to a Navy release.
    The dolphins use their highly developed sonar to locate and then mark the underwater mines so that human divers can deactivate them. This work has angered some animal rights groups, however.
    The animal rights group PETA recently released a statement opposing the military's use of dolphins and other animals in the war against Iraq. Wars are human endeavors, PETA argues, and animals should be left out of it.
    The dolphins are part of the Navy Special Clearance Team ONE, according to a recent Navy press release, which will conduct mine countermeasures, or MCM. The team consists of a dive platoon, a dolphin platoon and an unmanned, underwater vehicle platoon.
    "A whole bunch of our dolphins have Hawaiian names," said Tom Lapuzza, public affairs officer for the Navy Marine Mammal Program in San Diego, in an interview with the Honolulu Advertiser. "A number of them were collected in the Gulf of Mexico and almost all were flown to Hawai`i, where the basic training and systems were developed."
    Capt. Mike Tillotson, a Navy bomb disposal expert, told the Advertiser that dolphins are taught to avoid touching the mines, and that there is little risk to animals doing this kind of work. The biggest hazard could come from other indigenous dolphins in the waters of Umm Qasr — dolphins are territorial and there is a fear local dolphins might drive the newcomers out.
    According to the Navy, the future of mine detection will depend more and more on unmanned systems. When the technology is fully mature, such systems will be used to reduce the risk to both man and dolphin in MCM operations and will allow divers to focus on high priority targets.
    According to the Navy, the military began using marine mammals in the early 1960s. Military researchers were investigating how their highly developed senses like the dolphins sonar could be used to locate mines and do other tasks.

    The Shallow Water Intruder Detection System (SWIDS) is a proposed capability that uses specially trained MK 5 MMS sea lions to locate water-borne intruders and suspicious objects near piers and ships that pose a possible threat to military forces in the area. It has been shown to be effective under and around ships, piers, and in open water. The SWIDS capability demonstration was deployed to Bahrain as part of the effort to support missions under Operation Enduring Freedom.
    The Navy uses hardware and unarmed instrumented test equipment that may be fired from ships or dropped from planes into the ocean. Traditionally, these items were recovered by human divers. However, humans are restricted to short periods of working time on the bottom. They are also hampered by poor visibility, currents, and the requirement for medical personnel, a decompression chamber, and other surface support. To meet this need, the Navy developed the MK 5 Marine Mammal System (MMS).
    The MK 5 MMS became operational in 1975 and uses California sea lions to locate and attach recovery hardware to underwater objects such as practice mines. Some of these mines are equipped with a device called a pinger that sends out a beeping sound to help the sea lion locate them. For this, the sea lion may have to dive to depths of 500 feet or more. The sea lion recovery system consists of a small rubber boat, a sea lion, and two or three handlers. When the boat arrives at the recovery site, the sea lion is sent over the side and given a bite plate to which an attachment device is mounted. The sea lion locates the object by using its exceptional hearing to locate the pinger attached to the shape. A strong line tied to the bite plate is payed out from the boat as the sea lion swims down to the object and attaches the device. To be sure the connection is good, the sea lion tests it by pulling back on it a few times. The sea lion then releases the bite plate and returns to the boat for a well-deserved reward of fish while a crane is used to pull the object off the bottom.

    Navy Seal?
    No, it's a Navy sea lion

    (Defend America (US DoD), Feb. 10, 2003)
    — Zak, a 375-pound California sea lion, shows his teeth during one of many training swims taking place in the Central Command area of responsibility. Zak is supporting Operation Enduring Freedom by participating in the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center's Shallow Water Intruder Detection System program. He locates swimmers and other objects in the water near piers and ships.

    The Odd Truth, Feb. 19, 2003 Zak, a 375-pound California sea lion, trains in the waters off the coast of Bahrain, Feb. 12. Zak is a participant in the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Centers Shallow Water Intruder Detection System (SWIDS) program, and is trained to locate swimmers near piers, ships, and other objects in the water considered suspicious and a possible threat to military forces in the area. (Photo: AP)

    U.S. Navy trainer works with California sea lion during harbor patrol for Shallow Water Intruder Detection System program. (Photo: AP)
    Uncle Sam's Animal Warriors
    (CBS News, Feb. 20, 2003)
    MANAMA, Bahrain, Feb. 20, 2003 - (AP) Move over Navy SEALs: There's a new sea creature in town.
    Make way for Zachary, the 19-year-old sea lion, one of the U.S. Navy's new secret weapons in any war against Iraq.
    Brought to the Persian Gulf to swim alongside naval vessels and key facilities in this kingdom, Zachary and the other whiskered sea mammals are here to test their effectiveness in guarding against attack, by providing early warning of enemy saboteurs.
    "If there is somebody down there who shouldn't be there, the sea lions will find them," said Lt. J.G. Josh Frey, a spokesman for the Navy's 5th Fleet.
    The need for the stealthy sea lion was highlighted after the Oct. 12, 2000, attack on the USS Cole. The bombing, blamed on al Qaeda, occurred when a seemingly harmless dinghy eased up to the destroyer and blew a hole in its hull, killing 17 sailors and injuring 39.
    A sea lion patrol, had it been there, might not have been able to detect the Cole attackers because they were above the surface, but the bombing demonstrated the vulnerability of navy ships to small-scale assault.
    The U.S. military has used intelligent sea creatures for three decades, including dolphins that patrolled Persian Gulf waters during the late 1980s. But it is the first time sea lions are being used in a "real world environment," Frey said.
    Thomas LaPuzza, a spokesman for the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center in San Diego, the sea lions' base, said the deployment is a temporary test program to see how sea lions, along with other technologies, fare on the job.
    The sea lions would eventually return to California and have not been issued operational orders yet, LaPuzza said.
    The Navy chose the mammals for their ability to see in very low light, directional underwater hearing, and their capacity for repeated deep dives to up to 650 feet.
    "They are a lot more agile in tight places in the water than dolphins," said Brenda Bryan, a civilian who is the head trainer in Bahrain.
    Turns out, the sea lions have media savvy too. On a recent day in Bahrain harbor, Zachary the sea lion showed off for the cameras, jumping in and out of a dinghy and frolicking in the water.
    Prompted by a signal from his handler, Zachary flopped into the water, rolled over a couple of times, and poked his head up, blinking his black eyes and waiting for the next instruction.
    A handler whacked the side of the inflatable boat with a stick, and with a quick thrust of his powerful flippers Zachary easily lifted his 385 pounds out of the water and into the bow.
    Water glistening darkly on his thick hairy coat, Zachary greedily accepted a fish treat for his efforts.
    The sea lions will go looking for threatening swimmers, divers or small outboard-powered inflatable boats.
    If they find one, the sea lion will come to surface to raise the alarm, Frey said. The handlers can then give the sea lion a clamp attached to a line that the animal can fix to the suspect's leg, marking him with a surface buoy and letting troops on the surface haul him in like a fish.
    "The sea lions are ... protecting our ships and sailors and Marines in the port, and our coalition partners as well," said Cmdr. Jon Wood, a special operations officer at the Navy's Central Command in Bahrain.
    The Navy started using marine mammals in the early 1960s, when scientists began investigating whether the ultra-sleek shape of dolphins had hydrodynamic qualities that could be used to improve underwater missiles.
    Military researchers then began looking into how sea mammals' highly developed senses - like dolphins' sonar - could be harnessed. During testing in the 1960s, dolphins and sea lions quickly proved reliable carriers of messages, tools and other equipment. Plus they could be trusted to operate unaccompanied in open waters.
    Dolphins were used in the 1970s during the Vietnam War. In the late 1980s, six Navy dolphins patrolled the Bahrain harbor to protect U.S. ships from enemy swimmers and mines and escorted Kuwaiti oil tankers through potentially dangerous waters.
    Whales also have been tested for Navy use. A pilot whale successfully found and attached a recovery device to a dummy torpedo at 1,654 feet.
    For now, the sea lions are spending their days getting accustomed to the warm waters of the Gulf. The sea lions are operated by Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit Three and Navy Special Clearance Team One, both out of San Diego - where the water is a few degrees cooler.
    "They have adapted really quickly and really well," Bryan said, adding that the sea lions are eating heartily and happily and aren't losing weight.
    By Rohan Sullivan ©MMIII, The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

    Trained sea lions help U.S. Fifth Fleet detect Iraqi mines
    (World Tribune, Jan 30, 2003 )
    ABU DHABI — The U.S. Fifth Fleet has deployed sea lions to help detect and defuse Iraqi mines meant for U.S. naval vessels operating around the Gulf.
    U.S. Central Command said the sea lions were trained to recover unarmed practice mines after naval exercises and were brought to Manama. The command's naval forces said the California sea lions will apprehend insurgents who try to place mines on or near U.S. warships whether on land or in sea.
    "They can run on land as fast as a human and can swim at 40 kilometers an hour for short bursts, making them ideal for quickly attaching restraint devices to divers underwater and then swimming away at high speed as security forces move in to apprehend the restrained diver almost immediately," Central Command said in a statement.
    U.S. military forces in the Gulf have been on alert for Iraqi or Al Qaida attacks amid the current allied buildup in the region, Middle East Newsline reported. Most of the anti-U.S. attacks have so far been reported in Kuwait.
    Central Command said the sea lions can quickly detect and locate sound underwater as well as spot divers underwater. So far, the navy has used them in training exercises with divers and dolphins but Central Command will place the sea lions with its harbor patrol unit.
    "It is estimated the sea lions save the navy and taxpayers more than a million dollars annually by locating and attaching recovery lines to practice mines that would otherwise be lost and thus require replacement," the statement said. "Like military working dogs, California sea lions are easy to work with and provide a number of capabilities valuable to the navy."
    Central Command said the introduction of sea lions is part of what it termed anti-terrorism measures allocated for demonstration in Bahrain. The command said the sea lions will operate around U.S. naval ships anchored in Manama's harbor as part of the Shallow-Water Intruder Detection System.
    In Washington, the U.S. Coast Guard announced the deployment of eight cutters, comprised of 600 personnel, to the Gulf. The Coast Guard would help protect naval vessels from sabotage and insurgency attack.
    "Clearly, there's a real threat there," Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said.

    Let slip the sea lions of war
    By Verity Murphy, BBC News Online, Nov 3, 2003
    With the military build-up in the Persian Gulf showing no sign of abating the US Navy has unveiled its secret weapon - a crack troupe of sea lions.
    The specially trained mammals have been deployed to the region to protect US and British warships against attacks from underwater saboteurs and mines.
    These whiskered warriors are even capable of clamping a floating marker to the legs of an intruder, alerting troops to his position, who can then move in and haul the attacker out of the water.
    The British naval commander in the Gulf, Rear Admiral David Snelson, warned on Monday that possible al-Qaeda attacks on warships in the region was the biggest security threat facing his forces as they prepare for a possible war with Iraq.
    Three years ago 17 US servicemen were killed when the USS Cole was attacked in the Yemeni port of Aden by al-Qaeda operatives using an inflatable boat packed with explosives.

    They never enlisted, they know nothing of Iraq or Saddam Hussein and will probably not survive
    Dawn Carr, PETA

    Now as an armada of more than 130 US and British Navy warships and support vessels is crowded into the Gulf, the sea lions have been pressed into action.
    Sea lions were chosen for the task of patrolling the harbours because not only are they extremely intelligent, but they have acute directional underwater hearing and work well in low light visibility. "They have very sophisticated sonar systems that can detect movement," said Rear Admiral Snelson.
    Press ganged
    In addition they can swim at 40 kilometres per hour (25 miles per hour) and carry out repeated dives of up to 300 metres (1000 feet).
    "For thousands of years of his history, man has made use of the capabilities of animals, their strength, extraordinary senses, swimming or flying ability," Tom LaPuzza, public affairs spokesman for the US Navy Marine Mammal Programme said.
    But animal rights groups object to the use of animals in combat.
    "It is simply not ethical to put animals in harm's way. War is a human endeavour and while people and political parties may decide war is necessary, animals cannot," Dawn Carr, a spokeswoman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) told BBC News Online.
    "They never enlisted, they know nothing of Iraq or Saddam Hussein and will probably not survive," she added. The US Navy says it has about 20 of these sea lions, who can be rapidly deployed by land, sea or air. They regularly take part in major naval exercises, but this will be the first time they have taken on a real combat role.
    Cuffing intruders
    The sea lions in the Gulf are all graduates of the US Navy's Marine Mammal Programme in San Diego, California. There they are trained in mine recovery - diving down, locating a mine and if possible attaching a grabber device which can be used to recover it.
    They also learn how to alert humans when they detect an intruding diver and even attach a restraint device - a c-shaped clamp which locks onto the diver's leg like a handcuff - before deploying a floating buoy attached to the cuff and swimming away to safety.
    Sea lions can even pursue a suspect onto dry land - alerting all in the vicinity with their loud honks.
    Also based in San Diego are three groups of dolphins, also trained to detect mines and humans.
    Dolphins are no strangers to combat, having been used by the US Navy to patrol the water of Vietnam during the 1970s as well as the Persian Gulf in the Iran-Iraq war.
    But this time the Navy opted to use sea lions because they are more manoeuvrable than their cetacean counterparts and better able to handle the higher temperatures in the region.
    Proud history
    Since the days of Hannibal crossing the Alps with his elephants an exotic array of animals have been pressed into military action.
    Perhaps the most bizarre plan was when the US launched Project X-Ray in World War II - an attempt to attack Japan with bats carrying tiny satchels bearing incendiary devices.
    The plan backfired when on a practice run the bats attacked the wrong target, and set fire to a military airfield in New Mexico.
    In the recent Afghan conflict troops were on alert for attacks by kamikaze camels strapped with explosives, a tactic the mujahideen used against Soviet troops.
    And in the event of a US-led attack on Iraq the US army plans to ride chickens into battle in cages atop Humvees, used as early warning gas detectors.
    The US Army calls the strategy Operation Kuwaiti Field Chicken - or KFC - but the plan has been put on hold after 41 of the 43 chickens deployed to the Gulf died within a week of arrival.
    Still, headed into the fray will be some of the 1,400 dogs who work in the US military - carrying out tasks ranging from mine detection to the rescue and recovery of dead and wounded personnel.