DoD Knowledge Base: FAQs

U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program
Published: 03/07/2005 | Updated:  08/19/2014
What is the use of Dolphins & Sea Lions in the Navy? Does the use of Navy sonar program cause harm to the Dolphins?

Sea mines are sophisticated, expensive weapons that are designed to work in the ocean where they can sink ships, destroy landing craft, and kill or injure personnel. Sea mines are made so that they cannot be set off easily by wave action or marine animals growing on or bumping into them. If undetected, sea mines can be deadly, destructive weapons. But just as the dog's keen sense of smell makes it ideal for detecting land mines, the U.S. Navy has found that the biological sonar of dolphins, called echolocation, makes them uniquely effective at locating sea mines so they can be avoided or removed. Other marine mammals like the California sea lion also have demonstrated the ability to mark and retrieve objects for the Navy in the ocean. In fact, marine mammals are so important to the Navy that there is an entire program dedicated to studying, training, and deploying them. It is appropriately called the Navy Marine Mammal Program (NMMP).

While dogs work as effective sentries on land, dolphins and sea lions cannot be outmatched as sentries in the water. In the MK 6 MMS, dolphins and sea lions effectively protect piers, ships, harbors, and anchorages against unauthorized swimmers, SCUBA divers, closed-circuit divers, and swimmer delivery vehicles.

Maintaining the health of the Navy's marine mammals is central to the Navy Marine Mammal Program's mission and focus. A full-time staff of veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and biologists ensures that necessary care and management processes are in place to provide for all the health needs of the animals. A veterinarian and a veterinary technician are on call around the clock, 7 days a week. The NMMP is in strict compliance with all statutory requirements, DoD requirements, and federal laws regarding the proper care of the animals. The primary focus of the health care program is to keep the marine mammals healthy and fit for duty. Cutting-edge marine mammal health care techniques and technologies are actively evaluated and developed. Research to support the health of the animals incorporates fields such as immunology, virology, epidemiology, microbiology, toxicology, and vaccination development. In this regard, the Navy continues its time-honored tradition of being an important National resource for the study of marine mammal nutrition, medicine, physiology, and ecology. The NMMP is accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International (AAALAC). AAALAC is a nonprofit non-regulatory organization that promotes high standards of animal care and use, improves laboratory animal well-being, and enhances life sciences research through accreditation. It is a non-governmental independent organization that monitors and ensures strict animal care standards throughout the world. The 2002 re-accreditation letter to the NMMP noted: "The Council commends you and your staff for providing and maintaining an excellent program of laboratory animal care and use."


If you still have questions about the NMMP, you may contact the SSC Pacific Public Affairs Office at (619) 553-2717.