GULFPORT, Miss.—The effort to clear Iraqi mines from the Persian Gulf and from a port in southern Iraq has spotlighted an unlikely member of the coalition forces: a bottlenose dolphin named K-Dog.
K-Dog was pictured last week in a widely distributed Navy photo that showed it training for the mine-finding mission. A multinational team made sure that ships loaded with food from relief agencies could enter the port of Umm Qasr safely.
Many of the dolphins the military used in the Persian Gulf were raised on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi.
"We've been involved with the Navy's programs for more than 30 years," said Moby Solangi, president of the Marine Life Oceanarium facilities in Gulfport.
The Mississippi Sound and adjacent waters are calfing grounds for dolphins, which need refuge from sharks, their natural enemies. The murky shallows provide an environment that lets the dolphins hone their sonar abilities.
Their natural sonar works when they emit sounds generated in their nasal passages.
The sounds bounce off an object and return to the dolphins, which can differentiate among materials and find hidden targets on the bottom of the ocean.
When a dolphin detects a mine, it can release a floating buoy to mark the location.
Detection equipment also can be attached to the dolphin's flipper.
Dolphins bound for active duty are, essentially, house-trained in Gulfport before being turned over to military units that further the process.
The dolphins' use by the armed forces has generated concern from animal-rights groups. The critics acknowledge the dolphins' value in saving lives but point out that they could suffer while being transported long distances or could be hurt at sea.
Solangi defended the practice.
"There's nothing different between a canine unit and these dolphins," he said. "You have a person take a dog and he sniffs something at an airport—I don't see anything different with this. These are extraordinary animals. They have extraordinary capabilities. We'd be remiss if we didn't utilize these capabilities to better our lives."
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Dolphins
GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20030326 Dolphins at war