The United States Navy has been using specially trained dolphins for a number of years to find mines in waterways around the world. Currently the Navy has 24 specially trained dolphins that can find mines and warn Navy personnel. The Navy has 80 dolphins in total within its $24 million Marine mammal program.
The Navy has announced that it plans to begin replacing the dolphins with unmanned underwater vehicles starting in 2017. The dolphins use their unique echolocation capabilities to find underwater mines and warn personnel so the mines can be avoided or removed. The unmanned underwater vehicles that will place the dolphins will use a broadband sonar system to perform the same task.
The robotic underwater vehicles will use low-frequency broadband sonar to perform a similar task at a greater distance and for longer duration. The unmanned underwater vehicles will also be able to operate without the need for manned support boats or surface-based assistance that the Dolphins require.
The Navy likens its dolphin mine hunting program to programs that use dogs to detect bombs and drugs in airports and other locations around the world. The dolphins in the Navy’s program will be reassigned for other tasks. What exactly those tasks will be is unknown at this time.