Physicist, Oceanographer, Aerospace Technologist, Rancher, Land Developer and Lecturer
Navy Dolphin Program
A Tersiop Truncatus (Bottlenose Dolp0hin) following in the wake of the boat learning how to stay with his handler after he has been put in the water to perform an operation. These animals really enjoyed being a part of the operation once they caught on to how much fun they could have with humans.
Trident Insignia of the Navy SEALs
The Navy's highly classified Marine Mammal Program began in 1960 with several goals. First, the Navy wanted to study the underwater sonar capabilities of dolphins and beluga whales to learn how to design more efficient methods of detecting objects underwater.
Secondly, important questions needed to be answered before the program could get underway, the DEVELOPMENT OF A PLAN FOR THE NAVY DOLPHIN PROGRAM was immediately necessary. How is it possible that an animal like the dolphin can operate in the ocean environment breathing air just like a man does, stay so long underwater, dive so deep, be able to find his way in total darkness at the great depths where it is capable of diving, locate objects in the water and be able to move at such tremendous speeds that the dolphin can attain under water or on the surface of the water? None of these questions could be answered in the research environments in any country in the world in 1960 when the Navy Department made this decision to begin the study of Dolphins. How does the dolphin operate in ice cold waters? What does it have for a warming mechanism to allow it to go into these cold waters and perform as if it were in warmer waters?
No one at the top levels of the Navy, nor at any of the many oceanography research institutions in the United States knew the answers to a host of questions concerning the dolphin, or the whale, or any of the other mammals that men were considering for these many tasks alongside of men, especially in potential combat situations. Could a dolphin be trained to take orders from a man? No one had the assurance that the animals could be trained by man and would respond to man to do the many different taks that the Navy was envisioning for dolphins. There were no dolphin shows anywhere in the world like there are today. These instutions have successfully trained both dolphins, whales and sea lions to perform a host of tasks that were taught by men to them.
In addition to this research component, the Navy also planned to train dolphins, beluga whales, sea lions and other marine mammals to perform various underwater tasks, including delivering equipment to divers underwater, locating and retrieving lost objects, guarding boats and submarines, and doing underwater surveillance using a camera held in their mouths. It was envisioned that the Dolphin could also locate and mark underwater obstacles and mines to keep from having to send human divers into those dangerous situations. Dolphins were used for some of these tasks in the Vietnam War and in the Persian Gulf.
The Marine Mammal Program was originally classified, and was at its peak during the Cold War. The Soviet Union's military was conducting similar research and training programs in the race to dominate the underwater front. At one point during the 1980's, the U.S. program had over 100 dolphins, as well as numerous sea lions and beluga whales, and an operating budget of $8 million dollars. By the 1990's, however, the Cold War was over, and the Navy's Marine Mammal project was downsized.
In 1992, the program became declassified. Many of the dolphins were retired, and controversy arose over whether or not it would be feasible to return unnecessary dolphins to the wild.
Navy marine mammals were trained to perform many underwater duties, including
•Bottlenose dolphins - detect and marking of underwater mines. The animal locates a mine and then deposits a weighted buoy line near the mine in order to mark it.
•California sea lions attach grabber devices to underwater objects for retrieval. This system is used extensively in training exercises with divers for Explosive Ordnance Disposal units. Practice mines are placed on the sea floor; those not found by the divers during the exercise are retrieved by the sea lions.
Bottlenose dolphins were used to detect and defend against enemy swimmers. This procedure was used in both the Vietnam war and the Persian Gulf to protect Navy anchored vessels from enemy swimmers seeking to plant explosives. The dolphins would swim slowly, patrolling the area with their sonar, and alert armed trainer guards if they located a swimmer. They were also trained to "tag" the enemy swimmer with a marker so that Navy personnel could apprehend him. During the Vietnam war, rumors circulated about a "swimmer nullification program" in which dolphins were also being trained to shoot at enemy swimmers with a device similar to the tagging device. The Navy denied that any such program existed or that any dolphin was ever trained to attack a human.
My World is Turned Upside Down
One day, with no warning, in early 1961, I was called into the Commanding Admiral's office at Point Mugu and in a nice way was told by the Admiral that the Navy was starting a brand new program, and that I had been selected to help start this program right there at Point Mugu. He then explained to me the goals of the Navy Dolphin Program that had been spelled out by the Department of the Navy and what was planned at Point Mugu.
He told me that the Navy had made a decision at the highest levels to study the dolphin to see if there was any application of the dolphin's many special capabilities to the Navy's undersea warfare role. He told me that because of my interest in undersea activities and the fact that I had quite a lot of experience in the ocean teaching SCUBA diving that I had been selected to be a member of the small team that would start this program out at Point Mugu. He told me that a lot of questions had to be answered about the dolphin and its response to things that were asked of them if they were to be teamed with Navy divers in underwater activity.
Never before had dolphins been trained like this, and it was unknown what their response would be. There were no civilian dolphin shows like we have now. No one had ever tried working with these animals to see what they would do. He explained that countless hours had to be spent by the staff in the water and out of the water with the animals, learning about them and finding out what to do with them and how to do it. We had to learn what made the animal sick. What would they eat? And if they got sick, how could we care for them? What kind of pills could be administered to them to help them? What kind of commands would they be willing to understand and perform. All important questions for which there were no answers and no textbooks had been written on the Dolphins at that point.
He made it clear that we didn't even know what their normal body temperature was or even how to take their body temperature. Before we could ever let the animals be used in an assigned mission, hundreds of questions had to be answered, and thousands of hours had to be spent in the water with them to answer these questions.
I told the Admiral that I was very happy with what I was doing in electronic warfare and that I did not want to make a change in my professional life. I was a good engineer and enjoyed doing what I had been doing for more than a year at that time.
The Admiral told me in no uncertain terms that he really didn't care what I thought, that as long as I was working for the Navy, he had the right to assign me to the program and if necessary, call me back onto active duty in the Army and to assign me to this program. I was still a reservist, so he said he could do that to me. I was not a happy camper at that point.
There were no dolphin books in the library, and we didn't have the Internet in those days, so the probing for information about the dolphin was really a tough order. No one knew very much about the dolphin at that time. We didn't even have access to a drawing of the physiological makeup of the animal. The only oceanography institute anywhere near us on the West Coast at that time was at Marineland of the Pacific located on the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
I was also told by the Admiral that as part of this new job assignment, the members of the staff that would be working with the animals in the water would be sent to Coronado Island to the Navy Special Warfare Training Center and would be part of a special class at that center that would qualify us as UDT divers. The Admiral went on to say that the reason for this was that ultimately, Navy UDT/SEALs would be handling the Dolphins in their duty assignments and he wanted all of us that were working with the animals and later on with the personnel of the SEAL teams to understand them thoroughly, and what better way than to have become a qualified member of that select community. I did not know it then, but the Navy SEAL teams had not yet been organized by the Navy. That didn't happen until some months later. The Admiral said that ultimately we would take UDT/SEAL swimmers and train them to work with the dolphin on special tasks that were going to be doled out to these teams of divers and animals. What a deal! I was totally overwhelmed by all this hitting me all at once.
I thought I had one of the best jobs I could have ever imagined having, working in the Electronic Warfare Division at Point Mugu. I was flight qualified, meaning that I had qualified to fly in all the aircraft that the Division was using for the testing of the Eagle Missile System and other missiles in which we were also involved in the testing. I was flying lots, almost every day during some weeks. I would get to fly in the back seat either in one of our A3D's or one of a few F4's that we also had. I had gone through the flight qualification testing in San Diego in order to be flight qualified. I loved flying! Our electronic test bed aircraft was an R4Y, in civilian language, a Martin 440 which was a very nice aircraft that was a test bed aircraft loaded down with all kinds of electronic equipment. What a wonderful thing I had going for me. Our Chief of Flight Testing was a Marine Colonel, John Ross, and he and I became good friends. He taught me a lot about flying which was going to pay off for me a few years later when I became a Pilot myself, with Instrument, Multi-engine, and Commercial certifications by the FAA.
At the same time, on nights and weekends, I was a certified SCUBA diving instructor, introducing literally hundreds of people to the beautiful underwater world of our coast and one of the several islands we also had right next door to us. I loved it. I had been in the water since I was a child, learning all the wonders of the ocean, the animals, the water, the dangers and everything I could grasp from childhood to now adulthood. I had many Navy officers and enlisted people go through my classes, for I taught classes both at Point Mugu in their beautiful swimming pool or at the Port Hueneme Naval Base which was only a dozen or so miles from us. It was also a base full of engineers and scientists and other military personnel who loved to learn about the ocean and how to use this new thing in those days called SCUBA. There weren't many of us even in all of Southern California that were certified to teach SCUBA, so I was very busy with this wonderful opportunity to introduce people to the ocean.
I was not completely happy making this change, but the Commanding Admiral told me I had no choice. This was being done for the "good of the Navy". I didn't know at that time how much I was to enjoy this time working with the dolphin, an animal I had watched in the sea but knew nothing about! In fact, I was to find out that no one knew anything about the dolphin at that time. There wasn't one show with dolphins like we have now.
My personal interests outside of work had been working and playing in the undersea environment (SCUBA - Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus). I was a certified Instructor in SCUBA and had already taught hundreds how to safely use this equipment in the ocean. I also knew very well the islands offshore from Point Mugu where much of the dolphin activity was to take place. That activity on my part later resulted in my being reassigned on the job to this brand new program for the Navy, the study of Dolphins and how they could help with the many chores assigned at that time to UDT (Underwater Demolition Teams).
Schooling at the Naval Special Warfare Center, Coronado Island,
Four of us from point Mugu were put into a special class consisting of about 10 Army officers who were being trained in underwater activities so as to be able to return to their special operations schools and teach diving to their students. At no time during the training were we ever told that we were going to become a part of an operational UDT team.
I was fortunate to successfully complete this undocumented course at the school.This was quite an accomplishment. The purpose of going to this school which was the idea of the Commanding Admiral at Point Mugu who thought all of his Dolphin Program people ought to be well acquainted with the UDT/SEAL Program so as to be able to interface better with the future users that we were to train. This training was accomplished, and I was subsequently returned to Point Mugu to rejoin the Dolphin Program.
Before taking this course at the UDT/SEAL facility, I was returned to active duty in the Army as a Captain. and I received orders reassigning me to Point Mugu from Electronic Warfare to this new Navy Dolphin Program.
Some of the early meetings with the members of the UDT school in Coronado were pretty interesting. Their attitude about getting a job done was refreshing. Most line units were eager but not overly so about their jobs, but these guys that spent a lot of their time in the ocean, or rather under the ocean, were wonderful to be around. When the question was asked of them if they could or would be agreeable to teaching and then using these large animals, the Dolphin, in carrying out their assignments, the response was great. Not only did they agree that they could learn how to handle the big animals, but they also put in a bid to teach anything how to carry out assignment in the ocean environment, such as a cow, as shown in this slide that was made up for a presentation by a group for our benefit and the benefit of the Commanding Admiral at Point Mugu.
The next step in this major undersea effort was to collect Dolphin from whereever they could be bought by the Navy, then train these animals to work with man to do the various tasks that were going to be assigned to them.
It should be noted here that the program that was begun at Point Mugu in early 1961 was moved at a later date to Hawaii and then subsequently to Point Loma in San Diego Bay, now housed at the Navy Special Warfare Center. The animals were used in both Iraq wars and are still being trained along with their SEAL handlers.
Small pod of Pacific Whiteside dolphins just off the coast of Southern California
This Navy Dolphin thing was just another exciting project to add to the many I had already enjoyed in this beautiful part of the Planet Earth, the Underwater World. I was also getting to start something brand new in the world of science, for no one had done any work with dolphin up to that point. There were no books in the library on Dolphins. There were no diagrams of what the inside of a Dolphin's body looked like. We had no idea what Dolphins ate when in captivity because no one had had them there before. We didn't know how to tell whether they were sick or not. There were no dolphin shows as we have now, and except for an isolated scientist here and there in the U.S., the only research being done with dolphin was being done by the Russians who were also examining this wonderful animal as a possible assist in their concept of warfare under the waters of the world's oceans.
There were thousands of dolphins in the waters just offshore from Point Mugu. We had watched them many times when we ran diving boats going back and forth to the offshore islands about 20 miles off our coast. But we had never gotten close to them. This was going to be our chance to do this for the very first time.
This is typical of the large pods of Dolphin that swam in the channel between the mainland and the islands off the Ventura, California coast. When we began the study of the Dolphins, we would take our rubber assault boats out into the middle of a pod such as this and get in the water with the animals. After doing this quite a few times, we got used to them and they got used to us. None of us in the group that were divers ever got bothered by any animals while in the water with them.
I had a 30 foot Cris Craft twin screw power boat on which I spent many weekends at the islands off the coast of Southern California. At the speed the boat would travel, I could be at any of the islands in an hour or less and spend my time in the water having fun taking food like this to take home or to give to friends. Over a period of time I spent hundreds of hours underwater, many times with students along for them to gain experience. When I could, I would take fellow workers from the Navy Dolphin Program along to give them more time in the water, to improve their skills. When darkness came upon us, we would just anchor in some secluded cove on one of the islands and eat and sleep until the light of the next day. What a life!!
Fun on weekends gathering food for the coming week from my own boat
Underwater Instructor for the National Association of Underwater Instructors, Instructor #20 in the world and in this case the patch was for 20 years service
By the time I got involved with the Navy dolphin program, I was already certified as an underwater instructor by both Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation Department and the national Association of underwater instructors. I had already taught several hundred students how to enjoy safely the underwater world using scuba. The thrill of being selected to be in this brand-new program that no one had ever done before, working with Dolphins, was exciting. We had no idea what we were in for with these animals.
One of the first tasks required of the program was to build the facilities to house the animals and the staff of this new effort. An ideal location, or so it was thought, was found right on the beach at point Mugu, and construction was planned to construct three or four tanks to contain the dolphin. In addition there would be Quonset huts constructed to take care of office and research space for the staff.
Before the program had been underway for not more than several months, it was found that this location was the worst that could have been chosen for the staff and the animals. It was the outlet for Calleguas Creek which was the outlet into the ocean for 30 or more miles of wastewater discharge from streets, cattle feeding yards, farms, city sewer systems and several more hazardous material discharges. Staff and animals both got sick and all the animals died within one year of starting the program. Whether this was all due to the wastewater pollution in the creek feeding the ocean, it was not clear. In addition, water intake valves were placed in the ocean just offshore right where the wastewater discharged its pollution into the salt water of the ocean. From a standpoint of beauty and convenience for the testing in the ocean, a better location could not have been found, but with a dangerous discharge looming on the horizon, something had to be done, and it was!
The sansspit on the oceanfront at Point Mugu at the end of one of the long runways. Notice in the background Calleguas Creek which turned out to be a horrible experience for both the humans and animals in this Program.
A close-up aerial view of the area where the dolphin pens and the offices and workplaces for the staff were to be constructed. On one side was the water from Calleguas Creek and on the other side the Pacific Ocean.
Temporary holding pens for the animals built in the water of Calleguas Creek. The Dolphins seem to be very happy in these holding pens.
As we started getting animals into temporary pens at Point Mugu, it was obvious to we who were working in the environment daily that we had a tough job ahead of us to learn about these magnificent animals, how they thought, how they operate in the ocean, and how they would react to we the humans are going to be living with them day and night in pens. We had to learn what they ate and how to feed them, for example, would they eat cut fish instead of live fish like they normally did in the oceans. How do we take care of them? How do we make sure they are healthy? And if they do get sick, and require some medical attention, how do we go about doing that? What is their normal operating temperature? And along with that question, how do you take the temperature of the dolphin? No one had ever done that. As far as we knew. How do you give the dolphin a vitamin tablet or an aspirin or something like an antibiotic and what kind can they take without it doing them some harm?
As mentioned earlier, there were no dolphin books in the library. There was no one we could go to to ask questions about these animals. So we turn to the medical schools in Los Angeles for help. We needed to have their help to determine their body systems, to draw us diagrams, to prescribe medications, and to help us keep track of their health. Every time an animal died, and we did have some that died, a whole team of medical school doctors and their staffs descended on our facility to perform an autopsy and to begin to prepare diagrams of the bodily systems of the dolphin. We didn't have buildings when we started, so the work was all done out on the open decks on the beach at Point Mugu.
At the beginning of the program we had no diagrams of the internals of the dolphin. Every time an animal would die, and we had this happen quite often at the beginning of the program, pathologists and others from the medical schools in Los Angeles would come up to the site and take these animals apart and draw diagrams. These help those physiologists that were responsible for the care and feeding of the Dolphins. They were the first diagrams we had of the innards of an animal.
We started getting help from universities in the region that had oceanography programs and veterinary programs that were happy to have their students helping us in any way possible, and at no cost. Without their help we would not have been able to continue the program within the financial constraints.
Teaching the dolphin to place their tails on the dock so that a blood sample could be taken
Teaching the animals to be handled turned out to be quite a task, but once they caught on to the fact that we were not going to hurt them, they began to like the routine.
Feeding time when they were to take their food along with vitamins and other things we wanted to get them to eat. How do we get them to understand that we want them to eat these things we are feeding them? And do we feed them cut fish or whole fish like they are used to eating? Sounds simple but the learning cycle wasn't simple on either the animals or the staff.
Once the animals caught on that we were there to help them, they would come to the service and talk to us and beg for attention. The students love them and had names for every dolphin.
Chores like keeping their teeth clean became routine – the animals loved it and so did the handlers.
You may wonder why there is a photo of a chicken in this section of the website – well, we had to go through a six-week training program in the Navy Dolphin Program, first training chickens before they would let us start training the Dolphins. I was assigned this chicken, Esmeralda. I had to teach her how to do flips, how to stand up on her feet and shake her wings, and many other little tricks. Esmeralda would even dance on one leg, and then the other as I commanded her what to do. I never imagined that I would be doing such things, with my science degree from college, and being very involved in missile systems, why would I now be working with the chicken?
The Navy had a contract with an animal training company (ATE) in Arkansas that trained animals for movies. They were brought to point Mugu, to an empty building down on the beach, and they were to teach us how to handle Dolphins. But first we had to train chickens which would be much easier for us to handle. A group of about 10 of us went through this course. Most of us had trained our own dogs somewhere in our past, so working with the chickens was pretty much like training your dog to do tricks. We had to learn patience, and understanding, looking for the right response from the chicken when we tried to get them to do what we wanted them to do. Now after this exposure is the time for us to enter into training of the dolphin. We were ready!
As we learned more about the animals and got more experts involved, we learned very unique things that the Dolphins had. For example, the dolphin has a unique system for keeping its blood warm even in frigid temperatures in the ocean. We had wondered how they could stay down so long and very cold water. The arteries carry oxygen needed by the body, and the veins are warmed by the arteries since they are wrapped around them. This system allows the dolphin to operate in any kind of ocean environment.
As we got to spend more time with the animals, especially in the ocean, we were able to observe them in all kinds of unique positions including this one of mating. They allowed us to get close to them and to photograph them under many conditions.
Photo of a male showing a belly button (upper hole) and the rear opening which is where the penis of the dolphin comes out when aroused
This poorly drawn diagram shows the openings on the underside of both male and female dolphins. We made these as we went along by turning the animals over and looking at the openings.
It wasn't until some years after the program had started that people who were assigned to the program in the years to come started seeing depictions like this one above of the inside of the dolphin. This particular display we found in a museum in Sydney, Australia in 2004. We wished that we would have had these kinds of helps when we started the dolphin program. Even simple questions like what type of device do we use to take the temperature of the animal? And where do you insert the device? Into which opening? It's funny now, but it wasn't funny at the time how we came to the determination of where to insert a horse thermometer into one of the openings that we found on the underside of the dolphins. This is the only kind of thermometer that we had at the time and that looked like it would be able to do the job. The first time we tried it we got into the rear slot of the dolphin depicted in the picture to the upper left which was the opening for the penis, a male in other words! The particular male we tried this on wasn't very happy about our probing. He tried to bite all of us for fooling around with his hidden parts! In another case, when the probe was inserted into the slot of choice on a female she proceeded to suck the whole thermometer up into her insides. We had located by mistake the slot where the stool produced by the dolphin was excreted. We had a resident veterinarian working with us, but he had never had experience with the dolphins either! His only experience had been with guard dogs when he was an Air Force veterinarian.
In our pens we were able to watch babies being born and how the mothers cared for them after they were out in the water. Everything we saw we recorded in volumes and volumes of looseleaf folders.
Training Programs Begin for Animals and People
click on small photos below for larger photo
The training programs began in the waters off Point Mugu and then were continued when the program was moved to Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. The big concern always was once we put the animals in open water will they come back to us, will they respond to our control?
Dolphin in Training following boat (Photo by Mark Coller/Solent)
The animals in their pens were getting restless. They wanted out to do some exercise.
We were so pleased to see that the dolphins would come back to their trainer and expect to be patted on the head for being obedient
This is a training photo taken in San Diego Bay after the program was moved there from Hawaii. The dolphins were really performing everything asked of them.
Initial training conducted in the pools paid off when the animals were given a chance to perform in open water. They fully trusted their trainer and were happy to serve him or her.
The process of attaching a marker buoy to a mine so that the diver in the boat with the dolphin could locate the mine quickly. Before this, divers had to be in the water for extended periods, many times not being able to locate the mines. The dolphins had no problems in location and then the task was to get them to mark the location.
The task of attaching a marker buoy to a line marking the location of a mine.
The Dolphins had to learn to identify mines that they would encounter in their location training.A sample of the types of mines the dolphins would have to identify that would be laying on the ocean bottom. Would they and could they do this?A sample of the types of mines the dolphins would have to identify that would be laying on the ocean bottom. Would they and could they do this?This is a sampling of the type of minds that they would have to identify.
It was always refreshing to see how both the animals and the people appreciated each other. The Dolphins continued to amaze the trainers with their intelligence.
A lot of questions had to be answered about the dolphin and its response to things that were asked of them. Never before had dolphins been trained like this. There were no civilian dolphin shows like we have now. No one had ever tried these things with these animals. Countless hours were spent by the staff in the water and out of the water with the animals, learning about them and finding out exactly what to do and how to do it. We also had to learn what made the animals tick. What would they eat? And if they got sick, how could we care for them? What kinds of pills could be administered to them to help them? All important questions for which there were no answers and no textbooks on the Dolphin. No one had ever done this with these animals before. We didn't even know what their normal body temperature was and then how to take their temp was also unknown. Where do we stick whatever we are going to use to measure the temperature?
Before we could ever let the animals be used in an assigned mission, hundreds of questions had to be answered, and thousands of hours had to be spent in the water with them to answer many the questions. That was the next hurdle, getting the handlers, Navy SEALs to start working with the dolphin.
Training Moved from Hawaii to San Diego
The Navy Dolphin Program had been housed at the Naval missile Center, Point Mugu, California since its inception in 1960. Several environmental factors that were proving to be unhealthy for the animals as well as the divers was the motivation for moving the program. In 1962 most of the animals had died and many members of the diving team were ill and the factor of having to work in polluted waters was found to be the cause for these problems. All research was stopped until another site could be found. The Navy selected its base in Barking Sands, Hawaii on the island of Kauai as the next location for continuing the research.
(More will be written on this later)
Crosstraining begins with Navy UDT and later on SEAL divers - The Dolphin goes to war!
US Navy Howell Torpedo 1870 - 1889 found by Dolphin Program bottlenoser dolphins off the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego during training
Our favorite dolphin while I was in the program we named "tuffy" because he was such a hard animal to deal with and yet the most intelligent we had. He was the one that found the lost diver on the Sea Lab Program off the coast of La Jolla and saved his life. A friend made this image for me to remember Tuffy as I go off into the sunset. Maranatha!