Flipper Can Find It: US Navy Uses Dolphins to ‘Sniff’ for Mines
Just as the dog’s keen sense of smell makes it well suited to detect land mines, so the US Navy has found that the biological sonar of dolphins, called echolocation, makes them effective at locating and marking sea mines.
To take advantage of these skills, the Navy Marine Mammal Program studies, trains, and deploys dolphins, as well as sea lions, to carry out various underwater tasks for the Navy.
As part of the program, the Fleet’s Marine Mammal Systems (MMS) use dolphins and sea lions to find and mark the location of underwater objects…
The mammals perform mine hunting and marking, force protection, and object recovery tasks under the MMS.
There are 5 MMS and they are designated by the letters MK.
MK 4, MK 7, and MK 8 use dolphins, MK 5 uses sea lions, and MK 6 uses both sea lions and dolphins.
- MK 4 – dolphins are used for detecting and marking the location of sea mines that are tethered off the ocean bottom. MK 4 offers mine detection, classification, and marking capabilities in areas that are highly cluttered or where rough seabed, high marine growth, and other complex acoustic conditions hamper the performance of Navy hardware systems.
- MK 7 – dolphins are trained to detect and mark the location of mines sitting on the ocean bottom or buried in sediment. The dolphins are sent out after the first troops have gone into the area and help to clear a wider path of safety for additional troops and equipment.
- MK 8 – a human/dolphin team that allows troops to identify safe corridors for the initial landing of troops ashore. MK 8 operates with a low profile in shallow water.
- MK 5 – sea lions are used to provide an inexpensive method to recover submerged objects. The sea lions’ speed and agility allow them to recover objects much quicker than the mechanical options.
- MK 6 – dolphins and sea lions are used to protect piers, ships, harbors, and anchorages against unauthorized swimmers, SCUBA divers, closed-circuit divers, swimmer delivery vehicles, and suspicious objects near piers and ships.
These human/ animal teams can be deployed within 72 hours of notice and can be transported by ship, aircraft, helicopter, and land vehicles to potential regional conflict or staging areas all over the world. They regularly participate in major Fleet exercises.
Contracts and Key Events
Unless otherwise noted, the US Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare (SPAWAR) Systems Center (SSC) Pacific in San Diego, CA issues the contracts for the Marine Mammal Program.
Dec 4/09: Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) in San Diego, CA received a $9.9 million time-and-materials contract to provide support for the care, maintenance, and operation of marine mammals that serve in the Navy’s MMS and associated fleet mine countermeasures and force protection systems.
This 1-year contract includes 4 one-year options which, if exercised, would bring the cumulative value of this contract to $49.7 million. Work will be performed in San Diego, CA (96%) and Kings Bay, GA (4%), and is expected to be complete Dec 3/10. Contract funds in the amount of $4.4 million will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was competitively procured via the FedBizOpps website and the SPAWAR e-Commerce Central website, with 1 offer received (N66001-10-C-0070).
Dec 4/09: G2 Software Systems in San Diego, CA received a $6.9 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract to provide support in the areas of veterinary care, scientific research, and animal management of marine mammals involved in the Navy’s Marine Mammal Program.
This 1-year contract includes 4 one-year options which, if exercised, would bring the cumulative value of this contract to $36.3 million. Work will be performed in San Diego, CA (96%) and Kings Bay, GA (4%) and is expected to be complete Dec 3/10. Contract funds in the amount of $3 million will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was competitively procured via the FedBizOpps website and the SPAWAR e-Commerce Central website, with 1 offer received (N66001-10-C-0066).
July 22/09: EDO Professional Services in Arlington, VA received a $10.2 million indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity, cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for engineering support for the development and maintenance of mechanical and electrical hardware and computer software for the US Navy Marine Mammal Program, and associated unmanned vehicles, systems and equipment.
The 3-year contract includes 2 one-year options which, if exercised, would bring the cumulative value of this contract to $17.6 million. Work will be performed in San Diego, CA (80%) and Kings Bay, GA (20%), and base year work is expected to be complete July 21/12. This contract was competitively procured via publication on the FedBizOpps website and posting to the SPAWAR e-Commerce Central website with 9 proposals solicited and 1 offer received (N66001-09-D-0032).
Oct 1/08: Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) in San Diego, CA received a $7.9 million modification to a previously awarded indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity, cost plus fixed fee, performance-based contract to provide training and support services for the US Navy’s Marine Mammal Program. The program requires feeding, health care, handling, training, and transportation of marine mammals to meet Fleet requirements.
The cumulative value of this contract, including this modification, is $48.4 million. Work will be performed in San Diego, CA, throughout the continental US, and on US Navy deployments worldwide as required. Work is expected to be complete July 30/09 (N66001-03-C-0003).