Sea lions are being trained to detain suspicious divers
Expert Gremlin, a Californian sea lion, showcased his skills at a US Navy demonstration watched by officials at the Nato Underwater Research Centre at La Spezia bay, Italy, in October.
Handlers from the US Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Centre Pacific (SSC Pacific), based in San Diego, were displaying the super-trained animal’s unique abilities to European Nato staff.
America will now begin using seals at one of their top Naval bases in Washington State to patrol for terrorists as part of a drive launched after the 9/11 attacks.
The super-skilled sea lion showed how one of his tasks was to assist dolphins and Navy divers train for mine sweeping during war.
He swam down to a fake version of the dangerous device and attached a clamp so it could be reeled in by his keepers.
In combat situations, such as during Operation Iraqi Freedom dolphins were enlisted by the US Navy to plant markers that emit radio signals next to submerged mines.
During training for mine sweeping practice, the sea lions are conditioned to recognise various shapes of water mines.
Ann Dakis, a spokesperson for SSC Pacific, said: “In training, sea lions are shown practice mines and from continual practice they learn to recognise what they are looking for.”
The animals can also be fitted with a special harness attached to a lead, which allows trainers to keep track of them while they are hunting for underwater objects.
Cameras can be fitted to the harness giving military staff live video images from under the surface. When they are not helping dolphins and humans train to find explosives, sea lions patrol harbours and try to stop enemy divers trying to sneak into friendly waters undetected.
More spectacular perhaps are the sea lions ability to detain intruder divers whilst underwater.
“We have trained sea lions to attach a leg cuff, just like hand cuffs, but fitted on a diver’s thigh,” said Tom LaPuzza, a spokesperson for the Biosciences Division of SSC Pacific.
“The device works in the same way as handcuffs. Once they are on, they cannot come off.
“A line is attached to the cuffs and the other end is held by security forces on a nearby boat. The human forces can then reel in the intruder and take him or her aboard for questioning.”
Animals are used instead of humans because they are at home in the water and perform best.
US Navy bosses have now chosen to put in place a team of sea lions and dolphins at one of its top coastal bases.
The marine mammals will patrol the Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor in Washington State, on the American west coast.
A Department of Defence statement said: “The marine mammals would respond to security alerts by finding, identifying, and interdicting intruders.”
“When an intruder is identified, the animal locating the intruder would be provided with marking hardware to localise the intruder and interdiction hardware to enable apprehension of the intruder by security personnel. The Navy marine mammals would also participate in periodic training exercises.”
The US Navy currently have 28 California Sea Lions, 80 Atlantic and Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins and one Beluga whale in service.
The American forces first began training marine mammals in the early 1960s. They were first put to use between 1970-71 during the Vietnam War where they were brought in to protect the US Army ammunition pier in Cam Ranh Bay.