Militarized Marine Mammals

Dolphins and sea lions:

A Navy seal -- actually a sea lion -- took less than a minute to find a fake mine under a pier near San Francisco's AT&T Park.

A dolphin quickly located a terrorist lurking in the black water before another sea lion, using a device carried in its mouth, cuffed the pretend saboteur's ankle so authorities could reel him in.

Earlier posts on the topic.

Posted on May 20, 2010 at 6:50 AM • 34 Comments

Comments

BF SkinnerMay 20, 2010 6:58 AM

If they are such useful partners then we probably shouldn't be using their homes as our industrial and personal toilet.

wiredogMay 20, 2010 7:25 AM

Didn't Militarized Marine Mammals open for The Troggs back in '69?

RobMay 20, 2010 7:32 AM

Hee. So lets see, first you realize that there is a terrorist in the water (or likely to be) then you transport two of the thousands (maybe four) trained sea-lions to that harbor, then you say go get 'em, and one retrieves something that looks like the fake mine used for training, and the other attacks and drowns a surfer.

Given the cost involved with training and transporting sea lions, would it not be cheaper and more effective to use a navy seal (the human kind) for this sort of task?

RogerGSMay 20, 2010 7:34 AM

War on Terror = instant funding. If you imagined how you could use macrame to catch a terrorist you could probably pull down money out of the government to do it.

z9m9zMay 20, 2010 7:56 AM

It's "The Day of the Dolphin" all over again.

The ball is not play! The ball is bad!

AlanSMay 20, 2010 8:09 AM

@RogerGS "War on Terror =instant funding".

The times they maybe are a'changing:

"Britain's new deputy leader says he'll scrap an unpopular national identity card program, limit the retention of DNA samples and tightly regulate the use of closed circuit TV cameras in a sweeping civil liberties drive....Clegg says that "taking people's freedom away didn't make our streets safe,"..."

http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/...

MalvolioMay 20, 2010 8:26 AM

> If they are such useful partners then we probably shouldn't be using their homes
> as our industrial and personal toilet.

Why not? They do.

DayOwlMay 20, 2010 8:40 AM

So some day, the phrase "a little bird told me" will have a more literal meaning.

kashmarekMay 20, 2010 9:10 AM

When was the last time that undersea efforts were used for terrorism? This is a movie plot threat.

NobodySpecialMay 20, 2010 9:39 AM

@The times they maybe are a'changing:

Scrap the visible ID card but keep the invisible database behind it.

Limit the retention of DNA samples = say 10years for people who aren't charged.

Regulate CCTV = demand government access to the feeds from private, local council systems.

But lots more 'safety cameras'. Rules to reduce police paperwork - like writing down the evidence before the trial. And other commonsense measures for public safety.

TimHMay 20, 2010 9:40 AM

@AlanS

Hate to be cynical, but "Britain's new deputy leader says he'll..." is not the same as "Britain's new deputy leader will..."

NobodySpecialMay 20, 2010 10:18 AM

@When was the last time that undersea efforts were used for terrorism

If you were a branch of the armed forces that didn't seem to be exactly on the front line in Afghanistan and were worried about funding and how to persuade the powers that be that a fleet of aircraft carriers were necessary to fight domestic terrorism - wouldn't you get creative in your terrorist plots?

BillMay 20, 2010 10:19 AM

What's the false positive rate for this biological security system? i.e. Cuffing random swimmers, what could possibly go wrong?

On the roadmap for iDolphin v2.0 do they plan to
- go after moving objects e.g. torpedos?
- include multi-tasking (eat fish and stop bad things) ?
... I'd better stop... I'll get my coat.

wiredogMay 20, 2010 10:25 AM

@When was the last time that undersea efforts were used for terrorism

Didn't terrorist frogpersons swim into the White House a couple of seasons ago?

JoeMay 20, 2010 10:59 AM

Hmm, this could backfire. It wouldn't be the first time that agents we have trained turned against us. Of course in this case it might not be a bad idea depending on your position on whaling.

I can see it now: Marine mammals highly trained in counterterrorism apparently have been training scores of their cousins who are now attacking and sinking whaling ships.

thinkabouttheMay 20, 2010 11:09 AM

Well, i think the dolphin and sealion will never actually find a real bomb, but it might speed up check whenever a port has to be sweeped because some important person visits the port. Just like they use dogs now to find it at dry places.

tedMay 20, 2010 11:47 AM

How is this any different than using dogs for drug and bomb detection, or dogs and horses for crowd control?

Clive RobinsonMay 20, 2010 12:03 PM

Hmm using mammals in an aquatic environment just does not seem right.

I know lets use fish for UXB work then atleast when it goes wrong you have sushimi for tea...

Possibly the best use for thease sealines is "evidence recovery" on coast guard vessels doing drug patrol. when the runners push the stuff over the side send ];s the location then send a sealion down with a sonar marker so divers can go down and get the evidence later.

However I guess its going to be femail sealions/seals they use as generaly they are easier to train and control.

LDPMay 20, 2010 12:37 PM

Oh, I don't know if it's necessarily "wrong" to do this... doesn't seem too far removed from drug/explosives-sniffing dogs.

At least it's an imaginative and efficient solution to a nonexistent problem, as opposed to a cumbersome, expensive reaction to one. Step in the right direction I guess. I bet air travel would go a lot more smoothly if they replaced the TSA with three sea lions and a dolphin at checkpoints, although the secondary screenings might be a bit frightening.

mcbMay 20, 2010 1:17 PM

@ ted

"How is this any different than using dogs for drug and bomb detection, or dogs and horses for crowd control?"

Autonomy.

It Has Happened BeforeMay 20, 2010 2:13 PM

"When was the last time that undersea efforts were used for terrorism? This is a movie plot threat."

Well, there was the US sinking of the USS Maine for the Spanish-American war thing, and then there was the French government sinking of a GreenPeace ship...

NE PatriotMay 20, 2010 10:32 PM

The tough part with this one is that recreational divers often enjoy diving around piers and the like. They provide reef-like structures, and as such, provide homes for fish. Many divers also enjoy diving at night, when the nocturnal creatures come out. By definition, it's the only time when you'll see them.

How does a dolphin know the difference between a legitimate terrorist, and a recreational diver? How do you teach behaviour analysis to an animal?

ytMay 21, 2010 1:01 AM

Somebody is clearly a fan of William Gibson. Let's just hope they keep the marine mammals off drugs:

"Jones, a retired 'navy dolphin'. Jones' previous job was to locate and then hack enemy mines using sensors implanted in his skull .... To keep them loyal, the Navy addicted all of their 'war whales' to heroin...."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnny_Mnemonic

CraigMay 21, 2010 4:13 AM

It does make sense somehow? as this is their environment and their senses are attuned.

It makes more sense that the funding is to help the dolphins and (navy) seals attach the explosive/disabling devices to targets and then disappear and not be detected?

BF SkinnerMay 21, 2010 6:52 AM

@clive "best use for thease sealines is "evidence recovery" on coast guard vessels doing drug patrol"

Hmmmm. There was a, a, well _idea_ is too strong a word, call it a notion. There was a notion to tag dumped shipments with
satellite xmiters from helicopters that would allow tracking and recovery. I'm told that during pursuit when cargo is dumped it is necessary to map/establish a chain of custody early on to keep the team in the cigarrette boat from saying "Those are not our drugs. Someone else must have lost them there."

I don't know if an animal would be able to provide that link in the chain (not to mention the smell of sea lion in the close confines of a helicopter). Unlike record data or human testimony they really can't be examined can they? Say a dog detects something in someone's bag but the human handler can't find any contraband. Is that someone arrestable on the dog's word alone?

johnMay 21, 2010 11:16 AM

Sounds like the navies anti swimmer program (asp) that used compressed air spears mounted to dolphins heads to literally "blow -up" enemy frogmen. Ouch

AlanSMay 21, 2010 1:56 PM

@TimH

I said *maybe* are a'changing. I am also rather skeptical but I thought it was refreshing for a senior pol to come out and say what he said given the typical fear-mongering pols engage in--even if words are one thing, actions another.

TomMay 21, 2010 9:45 PM

If the sea lions are that efficient can we use them as airport screeners too?

Clive RobinsonMay 24, 2010 5:17 AM

@ BF Skinner,

With regards "chain of custody" hmm.

You raise an interesting couple of points,

The first being why do the boys in the "cigarette boats" make their consignments float?

If it where me I'd make sure the dam things sank as fast as a plutonium brick ;) and appropriately camouflaged for the sea bed (I'd do a couple of other tricks just incase they accidently got dropped over the side).

The other is the chain of custody when you think about it, it is quite a bit more than a dificult issue.

Technicaly once out of sight the chain is broken...

So if the boys in the cigarette boat put out sufficient smoke and did a "jetsum" under it's cover there is no "chain" unless it can be re-established via forensic evidence. Likewise if they actually had the packages under the hull (on say a cat) and just "invisably" detached them...

It's all a bit messy to put it mildly, especially if the illicit importers decided to run decoys etc as well...

Then again how would the "tags" you mention improve things, unless great care was taken with their design it could be argued that they had been taken from one package and put on another. Not that the average jury would buy it but the judge may well have to.

As for the smell of sealions yup they do have their own charecteristic smell (or atleast Harbour seals do from my experiance), and I for one would not want to drop them out of a helicopter as they are kind of fragile...

Leave a comment

Allowed HTML: <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre>

Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.

Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Co3 Systems, Inc..