Man’s best friend may be the dog but today, a sailor’s best friend is a marine mammal. I know; this is a very controversial subject but let's just look at some facts.
Sea lions and dolphins served in the military during the first Iraqi war. The animals were used to detect mine fields that were placed to blow up American ships. Contrary to some reports, the marine mammals are treated very well. They are given the best food and their trainers are with them night and day. They are too expensive and too important to be treated badly.
Because these animals work in open water without the supervision of the trainer the marine mammal will only return to the ship if it wants to. Training is based on a bond of trust between the marine mammal and the trainer. The work has to be fun and mentally stimulating as well or the marine mammals lose interest. remember, they are intelligent animals and get bored with routine.
This dolphin is carrying a camera on its flipper and signaling that it has finished its photo mission. The sea lion is fitting a recovery line to lost equipment.
The Navy doesn’t take any chances with injuring their ‘divers’ because training is too expensive and replacements can take years to train.
Sea lions have the advantage over dolphins in being able to climb into boats and helicopters; dolphins have to be transported in large tanks of water or follow their trainer’s speed boats.
Civilians have been working with sea lions for search and rescue in open water. Some research facilities now take their dolphins into the ocean for exercise. They return to their pens when they have had enough and want to spend time with their trainers.
Dr. Ted explained, “This kind of work with marine mammals requires a lot of careful interaction with the animals. They have to trust us as much or more than they trust a member of their own species. Working as partners with marine mammals is probably the best part of my job.”