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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Almanac/Stealth Dolphins

Air Date: Week of

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This week, we have facts about the Navy's elite MK6. Fifteen years ago this week these highly trained dolphins were deployed in the Persian Gulf.


CURWOOD: Welcome back to Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

[MUSIC: Henry Mancini, "Peter Gunn" GREATEST HITS, RCA]

CURWOOD: Fall, 1987. The Navy Command Vessel USS LaSalle docked in the Gulf of Bahrain on a mission to protect Kuwaiti oil tankers. The Navy dispatches a team of highly trained underwater security experts called MK-6 to guard this highly visible target. MK-6 turns out to be a pod of bottlenose dolphins that were part of the Navy's Marine Mammal Program.

The program to study dolphin's sonar and navigation began in 1960, but the Navy soon realized it couldn't design a system better than the dolphin's extraordinary navigating and swimming abilities. So dolphins were sent to locate under water mines, lost torpedoes and enemy saboteurs.

They scanned the water with their natural sonar for divers. Once targeted, the dolphin sneaks up behind the diver, and attaches a small strobe to him so that Navy personnel can intercept the intruder. It all happens so quickly and silently the diver may not even know he's been marked. Navy dolphins first saw active duty during the Vietnam War when they guarded the ammo pier in Cam Rahn Bay.

The Navy is currently developing new sonar systems that may one day replace the dolphin's mission. But until then, the dolphins just keep on swimming. Their latest operation? A NATO mine clearing exercise off the coast of Denmark. That's this week's Living on Earth Almanac.

[MUSIC: Henry Mancini, "Peter Gunn" GREATEST HITS, RCA]



US Navy Marine Mammal Program


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