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Navy enlists sea mammals to defend California ports (photos)

The U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program conducts training exercises in the San Francisco Bay using sea lions and dolphins trained to perform underwater surveillance for object detection, location, marking, and recovery.

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James Martin
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Marine mammals

The U.S. Navy is showing off some unlikely recruits in California.

Its Marine Mammal Program conducted training exercises Tuesday in the San Francisco Bay using sea lions and dolphins that have been trained to perform underwater surveillance for object detection, location, marking, and recovery.

In a full-scale regional exercise focusing on the state's response and recovery to multiple terrorist attacks at Bay Area ports, federal, state, and city officials took part in the Golden Guardian emergency preparedness program.

At Pier 48 in San Francisco, the city's police and fire departments, along with its Emergency Operations Center, conducted a drill demonstrating the ability of dolphins and California Sea Lions to help protect coastal areas from maritime attacks.

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California Sea Lions

California Sea Lions are trained at the Navy Marine Mammal Program in San Diego to patrol coastal waters and search out foreign objects like mines, IEDs (improvised explosive devices), and human threats.
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Sea lion finds mine

After being released from his holding pen aboard the ship, this sea lion was able to find a simulated mine that had been attached to a pylon at Pier 48 in San Francisco.
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Mine

The sea lion attaches a magnetic marker to the device and returns to the boat, at which time human divers are able to return to the device for closer inspection and removal.
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Human diver attack

A second demonstration Tuesday showed the ability of dolphins and sea lions to act together to detect and neutralize an enemy diver in waters around the ports of the San Francisco Bay.
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Dolphin marker

With incredibly sensitive sonar able to detect objects and people that might otherwise be obscured in dark or cloudy waters, the dolphin is used to locate a person, dropping a marker in the water to identify the target's location.
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Sea lion

Once the dolphin has successfully determined the location of the target, a sea lion is released and given a handcuff-like clasp, which it then attaches to the subject's leg.
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Caught

The clasp carried by the sea lion, which is anchored to the responding boat, is then reeled in, and the subject is taken into custody by law enforcement.
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Pier 48

"Exercises like this, which allow cooperation between federal, state, and local agencies, are valuable training opportunities for all involved in ensuring public safety," said Tom LaPuzza, public affairs officer for the Navy's Marine Mammal Program.

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