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 Sea lions called to duty in Persian Gulf

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مُساهمةموضوع: Sea lions called to duty in Persian Gulf   الأربعاء 20 فبراير 2008, 6:52 pm

U.S. Navy has deployed sea lions trained as underwater sentries to protect ships in the Persian Gulf from terrorists.
Zak, a 375-pound California sea lion, is participating in the Navy's prorgram to protect ships from terrorists.


The sea lions, part of the Navy's overall security plan, were sent to the Gulf after the Navy picked up reports that terrorists may use divers to lash explosives to the bottoms of ships, says Lt. (j.g.) Josh Frey, a spokesman for the Navy's 5th Fleet in Bahrain.

It is the closest the sea lions, which have long been used in U.S. military training, have come to combat.
The sea lions are trained to detect swimmers or divers approaching military ships or piers. The animals carry a clamp in their mouths. They approach the swimmer quietly from behind and attach the clamp, which is connected to a rope, to the swimmer's leg. With the person restrained, sailors aboard ships can pull the swimmer out of the water.

"The potential is incredible," says Tom LaPuzza, spokesman for the Navy's Marine Mammal Program. When sonar detects an object near a ship or pier, the usual response is to drop concussion grenades, LaPuzza says. "What if it's one of your guys

? The sea lions sound out an alarm and put the object in control until people can assess whether it's Seaman Jones being an idiot or it's an enemy with bombs," he says.

A sea lion attaches the spring clamp by pressing it against a swimmer's leg. Navy officials say the sea lions, part of the Shallow Water Intruder Detection System program, are so well-trained that the clamp is on the swimmer before he is aware of it. "He's going to be there and be gone in only a second," LaPuzza says. "You won't know anything was there until you have the clamp on your leg."

The sea lions operate in shallow water, usually in harbors and around piers. Normally used to retrieve practice mines from the ocean, this is the first time that they will demonstrate their new skills as underwater guards in what could become a combat area.

The Navy has a history of training sea mammals. Six dolphins patrolled around the USS La Salle, the 3rd Fleet flagship, when it sat in the harbor in Bahrain in 1987 and 1988. Ships in the La Salle's command group were escorting Kuwaiti oil tankers through areas that had been mined by Iraq.

Training of sea mammals started in 1960 when the Navy purchased a dolphin to study its hydrodynamics, how it moves swiftly and efficiently through the water. The service hoped to adapt the animal's hydrodynamic secrets for a new torpedo design. Although a dolphin-like torpedo never panned out, the Navy learned more about dolphins' sonar systems and ability to navigate and find objects underwater. Civilian scientists working for the Navy began training the animals to perform tasks in water too deep for human divers.
A bottle-nosed dolphin became the Navy's first sea mammal to complete an open ocean military exercise in 1965. Tuffy delivered supplies to Sea Lab II 200 feet underwater.

As the program evolved, the Navy recruited beluga whales and sea lions and broadened their training. The animals could deliver equipment to divers, locate and retrieve equipment, detect and mark underwater mines, conduct underwater surveillance and guard ships and submarines

Sea lions, which have extraordinary underwater directional hearing and can see in near-darkness, can home in on the pinging devices in mines. They can attach recovery lines to objects so a crane can haul them back to land.

In all, 20 sea lions from the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center San Diego have been trained. The military won't say how many are working in Bahrain's harbor. The sea lions traveled to the Gulf by plane with their handlers and two veterinarians.

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Sea lions called to duty in Persian Gulf
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