Military Dolphins Come From Mississippi

The battlefield in Iraq is dominated by high tech weapons and communication systems.

But for one important mission, the US Navy is relying on help from animals.  Dolphins are actually playing a key role in locating underwater mines in the Persian Gulf and nearby waterways.

And the dolphin project has an interesting coast connection.

When you talk about dolphins in South Mississippi, chances are someone will mention "Marine Life" in Gulfport. Dolphins there have entertained visitors for decades.

And Marine Life is where you'll find the link to the military.

Specially trained dolphins are used by the Navy to locate mines. Fitted with underwater cameras, the animals use their sensitive sonar to scan the water bottom. You may have seen the dolphins on the network news.

But there's something you may not know.

"They all came from the Mississippi Sound. We obtained them and did the initial acclimation," said Moby Solangi, the director of Marine Life.

The same Marine Life that trains dolphins for entertainment, also supplies the United States military. Marine Life has sent dozens of Mississippi dolphins to the United States Navy over the past thirty years.

Tim Hoffland is a dolphin Trainer.

"Dolphins are highly adaptable. They're good for what they want to do because of course they're marine mammals. So, they have a good sonar, they have an ability to swim really fast. They're very stealthy. So, for the kind of work they need to do right now, the dolphins are the number one animal to go with," said Hoffland.

Basic training is the same, whether the animals are performing for tourists or assigned the more serious task of mine sweeping in the Persian Gulf.

"It's all positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement works way better than using punishment or using a lot of negative reinforcement. But all the behaviors are broken down into really small steps, and along the way you achieve those steps and work toward the ultimate goals," said Hoffland.

Mississippi dolphins performing for tourists are fun. Those locating Iraqi mines, are a source of pride.

"Actually it helps save lives. It saves our men and women in uniform. And that is a sense of pride that can't be duplicated," said Solangi.