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Monday, February 21, 2011

The U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program

The U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program (NMMP) is a program administered by the U.S. Navy which studies the military use of marine mammals—principally Bottlenose Dolphins and California Sea Lions—and trains animals to perform tasks such as ship and harbor protection, mine detection and clearance, and equipment recovery. The program is based in San Diego, California, where animals are housed and trained on an ongoing basis. NMMP animal teams have been deployed for use in combat zones, such as during the Vietnam War and the Iraq War.
The program has been dogged by controversy over the treatment of the animals and speculation as to the nature of its mission and training. This has been due at least in part to the secrecy of the program, which was de-classified in the early 1990s. Since the program’s inception, there have been ongoing animal welfare concerns, with many opposing the use of marine mammals in military applications, even in essentially non-combatant roles such as mine detection. The Navy cites external oversight, including ongoing monitoring, in defense of its animal care standards.

[edit] History

The origins of the program date back to 1960, when a Pacific White-sided Dolphin was acquired for hydrodynamic studies seeking to improve torpedo performance.[1] The aim was to determine whether dolphins had evolved a sophisticated drag-reduction system, but the technology of the day failed to demonstrate that dolphins have any unusual capabilities in this respect. This research has now resumed with the benefit of modern-day technology; among the possible drag-reducing mechanisms being studied for human use are skin compliance, biopolymers, and boundary-layer heating.
In 1962, the animals' intelligence, exceptional diving ability, and trainability led to the foundation of a new research program at Point Mugu, California, where a research facility was built on a sand spit between Mugu Lagoon and the ocean. The intention was to study the dolphins' senses and capabilities, such as their natural sonar and deep-diving physiology, and to determine how dolphins and sea lions might be used to perform useful tasks, such as searching for and marking objects in the water. A major accomplishment was the discovery that trained dolphins and sea lions could be reliably worked untethered in the open sea.
In 1965, a Navy dolphin named Tuffy participated in the SEALAB II project off La Jolla, California, carrying tools and messages between the surface and the habitat 200 feet (60 m) below. Tuffy was also trained to locate and guide lost divers to safety.
Dolphin pens at the NMMP facility in Point Loma, San Diego.
In 1967 the NMMP was classified and has since evolved into a major black budget program [1]. The Point Mugu facility and its personnel were relocated to Point Loma in San Diego, and placed under the control of the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center San Diego. Additionally, a laboratory was established in Hawaii at the Marine Corps Air Station on Kāneʻohe Bay at the Northern end of Mokapu Peninsula. However, in 1993, as the result of the Base Realignment and Closure process, the Hawaii lab was closed and the majority of the animals were moved to San Diego; some animals remained, as part of a program of joint research between the Navy and the University of Hawaiʻi.

[edit] The program

The Navy Marine Mammal Program is based in San Diego, California, as part of SSC San Diego. The animals are trained in San Diego Bay; dolphin handlers can frequently be seen on the bay, where specialized small boats are used to transport dolphins between their pens and the training areas. Other locations are sometimes used for specific research, such as San Clemente Island in the Channel Islands of California, and torpedo test ranges in Seattle and Canada. The program's stated animal activities include protecting ports and Navy assets from swimmer attack, locating and assisting in the recovery of expensive exercise and training targets, and locating potentially dangerous sea mines.
There are five marine mammal teams, each trained for a specific type of mission. Each human-animal team is known in military jargon by a "mark" number (MK for short); the five teams are called "MK 4", "MK 5", "MK 6", "MK 7", and "MK 8". The MK 4, 7 and 8 teams use dolphins; MK 5 uses sea lions, and MK 6 uses both sea lions and dolphins. These teams can be deployed at 72 hours' notice by ship, aircraft, helicopter, and land vehicle to regional conflicts or staging areas around the world.
NMMP dolphins, such as the one pictured here wearing a locating pinger, performed mine clearance work in the Persian Gulf during the Iraq War.

[edit] Mine hunting

Three of the marine mammal teams are trained to detect enemy sea mines, which constitute a major hazard to U.S. Navy ships.[2] MK 4 uses dolphins to detect and mark the location of tethered sea mines floating off the bottom, while MK 7 dolphins are trained to detect and mark the location of mines on the sea floor or buried in sediment. The MK 8 team is trained to swiftly identify safe corridors for the initial landing of troops ashore.
In operations sanitized for the public, a dolphin awaits a cue from its handler before starting to search a specific area using its natural echolocation. The dolphin reports back to its handler, giving particular responses to communicate whether a target object is detected. If a mine-like target is detected, the handler sends the dolphin to mark the location of the object by releasing a buoy, so it can be avoided by Navy vessels or neutralized by Navy divers.
Mine-clearance dolphins were deployed to the Persian Gulf during the Iraq War in 2003. The Navy said these dolphins were effective in helping to detect more than 100 antiship mines and underwater booby traps from the port of Umm Qasr.[3]

[edit] Force protection

MK 6 uses dolphins and sea lions as sentries to protect harbor installations and ships against unauthorized human swimmers. MK 6 was first operationally deployed with dolphins during the Vietnam War from 1971 to 1972 and in Bahrain from October 1987 through June 1988. When an enemy diver is detected by a dolphin, the dolphin approaches from behind and bumps a device into the back of the enemy's air tank. This device is attached to a buoy which then floats to the surface, alerting the Navy personnel of the intruder. Sea lions carry a similar device in their mouth, but instead attach it by hand-cuffing one of the enemy's limbs. The animals depend on their superior underwater senses and swimming ability to defend against counterattacks.

[edit] Object recovery

An NMMP sea lion attaches a recovery line to a piece of test equipment during training.
MK 5 is dedicated to the recovery of test equipment that is fired from ships or dropped from planes into the ocean; the team uses California Sea Lions to locate and attach recovery hardware to underwater objects such as practice mines. In this role they can out-perform human divers, who are restricted to short working times and limited repeat diving.
This team first demonstrated its capabilities when it recovered an ASROC (Anti Submarine Rocket) from a depth of 180 feet (50 m) in November 1970. The team has trained in the recovery of dummy victims in a simulated airplane crash.

[edit] Attack missions

The Navy says that it has never trained its marine mammals for attack missions against people or ships.[4] The Navy stated that since dolphins cannot discern the difference between enemy and friendly vessels, or divers and swimmers, this would be a haphazard means of warfare; instead, the animals are trained to detect all mines and swimmers in an area of concern, and to report back to their handlers, who then decide upon an appropriate response.
The U.S. Navy has an arsenal of more conventional weapons which can be used to attack enemy ships in harbor, such as the Mark 48 torpedo, the Mark 67 submarine-launched mobile mine, and the Mark 60 Captor mine. A single attack submarine could deliver up to forty Mark 67 mines in one mission, each carrying a 230 kg warhead, at a distance up to 5 – 7 miles (8 – 10 km). This is a significantly more powerful and more consistent capability than could be realized by the use of dolphins (presumably submarine-delivered to an enemy harbor). However, a submarine is much more likely to be detected as a threat than a marine mammal.

[edit] Animals

Bottlenose Dolphins are among the species used by the Navy's Marine Mammal Program.
The Navy identifies the following animal species as having been used or studied by the program at various times:
Cetaceans: Pinnipeds: Other:
Today, Bottlenose Dolphins and California Sea Lions are the main animals used, and are kept at the base in San Diego. Dolphins have powerful biological sonar, unmatched by artificial sonar technology in detecting objects in the water column and on the sea floor. Sea lions lack this, but have very sensitive underwater directional hearing and exceptional vision in low-light conditions. Both of these species are trainable and capable of repetitive deep diving. As of the late 1990s, about 140 marine mammals were part of the program.[1]

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Inspired By The Courage of The Dolphins of Taiji

Filming the Dolphins of Taiji and witnessing their fight to the death will always be seared in my memory.. Could feel the dolphins' agony each time a spike was driven into their spine.  Not something that i wanted to witness....but now that i have, trying to turn that horror into a more meaningful energy.

Each time a fisherman would drive a spike into a dolphin, it would give me a flashback to a traumatic fencing experience. All was going great with my fencing as I was on the National Team and  training for Nationals. Because there was a shortage of fencers that night at the fencing club... agreed to fence someone who asked me to fence. Soon in our bout (when i was four points ahead)...this male fencer came at me with his epee held like a dagger with the intention to INJURE!  I took what felt like my last breath as he thrust his epee deep into my shoulder. I remember the attack so vividly...those seconds were one of the longest moments....time slowed down from his arm winding up to hit with all his force before he drove his blade into me.

The dolphins' death is the most agonizing...before watching their fight to the end...i have never known such suffering to exist. From their chase into the their terror of being trapped in the witnessing members of their families being killed.  And right down to  individual dolphins being grabbed, tied by their tail and dragged under the darkness of the tarp for their own lives to end. You think it ends there after they are almost drowned and as they flap their tails vigorously trying to escape...but the never ending nightmare continues. A fisherman winds up his arm thrusting a spike into their spine.....the dolphins are in agony and dying, yet refusing to give up on life as they thrash their tails in agony trying to take a breath through their blowholes that the fishermen have plugged.

Through these dolphins..from the one at the Whale Museum who wanted to play with me...not harboring resentment towards humans for being kept captive the dolphins who looked at death and felt hopeless despair...but still.tried to swim out to freedom....even as their last breath was taken from them...I have learned to not give up and to believe in life...and dreams. 

 As an athlete facing many struggles and injuries....the most recent trying to overcome an injury from a Chiropractor who was listed with the Canadian Sport Centre Ontario, someone who was suppose to help athletes; but who nearly paralyzed me and took me out of the running (or what i had hoped for) of making the Olympic team. My pain...anger...resentment...and nightmares of the chiro...was all i could think about for a long time as i missed an entire fencing season. But while in Japan something shifted within me...i was becoming stronger...even when i had pain at night it seemed so insignificant compared to the" fight to live", i was witnessing the dolphins struggle with.

When i returned home...i looked at the fencing schedule and saw that there is still a small fighting chance to make the team for 2012. And what the dolphins taught me is that dreams are worth fighting for....whether or not they are's the hard fight and being hopeful in life which matters the most.
I'm leaving for Budapest this Friday to try to get into World Cup fencing shape again...if i do; will owe any future wins to the Dolphins of Taiji. And no matter what.....will continue to do what i can to return to Taiji as much as possible with ways to promote eco-tourism and to continue to learn more about ways of helping the Dolphins.of Taiji. ( - Journey of A Canadian Athlete)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

In The Bushes.....Face to Face With A Japanese Killer Hornet

Flasback from my first year to Taiji, Japan. One of the younger generation of dolphin killers was giving me a tour of Taiji. He took me to a hiking spot which surrounds the coast line. As we walked through a trail....he grabbed me and stopped we backed up slowly...he was eyeing what looked to me like a Bumble Bee..told me that he thought this was a  "Killer Bee".....

Fast Forward to my recent trip to Taiji.
While hiding in the bushes videoing, felt something buzzing around me.  Put my camera down and what I thought was a huge Bumble Bee moved directly in front of my face.  It's long transparent-like wings beating furiously, keeping it stationary like a humming bird, looking straight into my eyes. Because i was in hiding from the fishermen searching for anyone in the bushes, I could not give into my fear....which was to JUMP UP...and run out of the bushes Screaming!  Instead, I was forced to lie " tete a tete" with this "strange Bee" looking deep into my eyes..After what seemed like an shot up and disappeared. and I resumed filming.....shortly after that, a strange wind blew through the bushes and over the water. And then sthg happened, the wind blew the tarps up which the fishermen use to hide the slaughter....and that is when i filmed some of the horror with my blurry camera.

On returning home, googled  "killer bees" in Japan and discovered that the fisherman had meant "killer hornets". There is a hornet in Japan which has a powerful deadly venom which they spray into the eyes of their victims. Which would explain why the hornet idled at my eyes...feel lucky...very lucky!

From the Internet on Japanese Killer Hornets: * I did not write the following:  
Why you must fear it:
It's the size of your thumb and it can spray flesh-melting poison. We really wish we were making that up for, you know, dramatic effect because goddamn, what a terrible thing a three-inch acid-shooting hornet would be, you know? Oh, hey, did we mention it shoots it into your eyes? Or that the poison also has a pheromone cocktail in it that'll call every hornet in the hive to come over and sting you until you are no longer alive?
Think you can outrun it? It can fly 50 miles in a day. It'd be nice to say something reassuring at this point, like "Don't worry, they only live on top of really tall mountains where nobody wants to live," but no, they live all over the goddamned place, including outside Tokyo.
Forty people die like that every year, each of them horribly.