Assassinating enemy divers with CO2-filled syringes? Parachuting from the sky and blowing up enemy ships kamikaze-style? Acoustically detecting a 3-inch ball 200 meters away in complete darkness? All this and more as Skeptoid covers the James Bond’s of the sea, deployed first by the USSR and today by the Indian Navy and U.S. Navy Marine Mammal System:
Dolphins and sea lions have advantages that are hard for navies to ignore. They swim far faster than divers, and are much easier and cheaper to deploy than remote underwater vehicles. They can dive hundreds of meters and return, with no concern about decompression, quicker than a human diver could even get suited up. Dolphins’ underwater acuity is such that they can acoustically detect a 3-inch ball 200 meters away in complete darkness, and even discriminate between different kinds of metal. A dolphin’s brain is famously larger than a human’s, in part because so much of it is dedicated to processing sonar signals.
The United States Navy Marine Mammal System currently employs bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions in three basic roles: guarding ships and ports against enemy divers, recovering lost hardware, and locating underwater mines. Throughout the program’s history, marine mammals have deployed in 25 countries. Other mammals have been employed in the past, including pilot whales and belugas.
The MK 6 (Marine Mammal System) uses both dolphins and sea lions as sentries, guarding ships and ports against hostile divers. Even divers using stealthy rebreathers or swimmer delivery equipment have little defense against the marine mammals’ senses and physical performance. MK 6 was deployed in the Vietnam War and has been used extensively in the Middle East since 1986.
In 1998, London’s The Independent interviewed well known dolphin expert Doug Cartlidge, who had been invited to the Ukraine to assess the former Soviet dolphin program. Cartlidge reported that at the height of the Soviet program, their dolphins were also trained to find and mark enemy divers; except their marker contained a CO2 needle that could be remotely triggered, killing the diver if and when the Soviets wanted to. They also employed dolphins as kamikaze torpedos with remotely triggered explosives, and told Cartlidge that as many as 2,000 dolphins had been killed testing and developing this system. But the most bizarre Soviet marine mammal system was a dolphin paratrooper. A dolphin wore a harness attached to a parachute, and could be dropped from heights up to 3,000 meters. How the dolphin was meant to get out of the harness once in the water, or what its task would be, was not reported.
In 2002, the Times of India announced that the Indian Navy had completed preparations to deploy a dolphin-launched limpet mine, citing the dolphin’s superior ability to swim long distances in rough water without being detected.