Move over Navy SEALs, dolphins are the US’s secret weapon | Innovation Tech
They’re agile and trainable, with incredibly sensitive sonar and sleek design – and from Vietnam to the Gulf War, dolphins have had hidden military roles
WHERE was that damned dolphin? Tuffy was nowhere to be seen. It was 1964, and the military’s top brass were assembled on a boat off the coast of San Diego, California, to watch the dolphin prove he was fit to join US Navy operations.
Sam Ridgway had the job of caring for the dolphins in the navy’s cetacean research programme, and as the minutes ticked by he began to get nervous. Ridgway was confident of Tuffy’s ability to deliver a package to a precise location on the sea floor, one of the tasks he had been set today. But the dolphin was swimming free in the ocean – perhaps he had decided not to come back. Maybe the naysayers were right and these wild animals could never be trusted to carry out the extraordinary and dangerous missions they were being prepared for.
Then, in the distance, a grey dorsal fin broke the surface. Within a few moments, Tuffy was sliding nonchalantly into the holding canvas on the side of the boat for the trip back to base. For around 80 bottlenose dolphins, it was the start of a tour of duty that would see them being deployed to war zones around the world to assist US military operations. It was also when, thanks to Ridgway, humans began to really learn about dolphins and their biology.
The US military first took an interest in dolphins in the 1950s – as templates for torpedo design. But their agility, trainability and incredibly sensitive sonar had not gone unnoticed, and by the 1960s a …