U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jennifer A. Villalovos;


Dolphins On Duty

The U.S. Navy trains these supersmart animals to work on lifesaving missions.

As You Read: Identify why dolphins were chosen to help the Navy. What makes them a good choice?

In April, a fisherman in the Arctic Ocean near Norway spotted a beluga whale near his boat. But this was no ordinary whale. Strangely, it was wearing straps meant to hold a camera. The straps were labeled with the name of a city in Russia. 

Why would a whale have camera equipment? Experts had a surprising explanation. They said the whale was probably part of Russia’s military. It most likely had been trained as a spy!

This may sound a little fishy. But whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals help militaries around the world. That includes the United States Navy. Its Marine Mammal Program currently uses more than 100 sea animals. These creatures help protect our country from underwater dangers.

In April, a fisherman near Norway spotted a whale near his boat. But it was no ordinary whale. It was wearing straps meant to hold a camera. The straps were labeled with the name of a city in Russia.

Why would a whale have a camera? Experts had a surprising explanation. They said the whale was probably part of Russia’s military. It most likely had been trained as a spy!

This may sound a little fishy. But whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals help militaries around the world. That includes the United States Navy. It uses more than 100 sea animals. These creatures protect our country from underwater dangers.

Star Students

The Navy program started in 1959. At first, Navy experts tried training all sorts of animals, like sharks, sea turtles, and birds. Then they settled on two species: bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions.

Both of these animals are smart and easy to train. And both can adapt to different environments, like shallow waters or deep seas.

The program has more dolphins than sea lions. That’s because dolphins have a special skill called echolocation (ek-oh-loh- KAY-shuhn). They can use sound to “see” underwater!

The Navy program started in 1959. Navy experts tried training all sorts of animals, like sharks, sea turtles, and birds. Then they settled on bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions.

Both of these animals are smart and easy to train. And both can adapt to different environments. For example, they can swim in water that is deep or shallow.

The Navy uses more dolphins than sea lions. That’s because dolphins have a skill called echolocation (ek-oh-loh- KAY-shuhn). They can use sound to “see” underwater!

Illustration by Marybeth Butler Rivera;

On the Job

The training of dolphins begins when they’re a few years old. Experts show them how to look for underwater explosives called mines. Mines can hurt people on military ships.

Mines can be hard for humans to find—but not for dolphins! With echolocation, they can “see” through dark, muddy water. Plus, they can dive hundreds of feet below the surface. When they discover a mine, they mark the spot so humans can remove it.

The training of dolphins begins when they’re young. Experts teach them to look for underwater explosives called mines. Mines can hurt people on military ships.

Mines can be hard for humans to find. But it’s easier for dolphins! They can “see” through dark water by using echolocation. Plus, they can dive deep. When they find a mine, they mark the spot.

Reporting for Duty

Dolphins and sea lions help in other ways too. They look out for enemies who dive or swim too close to Navy ships. This helps keep U.S. troops safe. 

The U.S. Navy travels all over the world—and so do its animals. In the past 40 years, Navy dolphins and sea lions have worked along the coasts of more than 12 countries. When they aren’t on a mission, the creatures prepare for future jobs.

“They will be ready if they are needed,” says Mark Xitco, who runs the program. “They are always on duty!”

Dolphins and sea lions help in other ways too. They look out for enemies who swim too close to Navy ships. This helps keep U.S. troops safe. 

The U.S. Navy travels all over the world. So do its animals. Navy animals have worked along the coasts of more than 12 countries. When they aren’t on a mission, the creatures prepare for future jobs.

“They will be ready if they are needed,” says Mark Xitco, who runs the Navy program. “They are always on duty!”

  1. What does the phrase "sound a little fishy" mean?
  2. How do trained dolphins help the Navy?
  3. How do dolphins see with sound? Use information from "How It Works" to support your response.
  1. What does the phrase "sound a little fishy" mean?
  2. How do trained dolphins help the Navy?
  3. How do dolphins see with sound? Use information from "How It Works" to support your response.

Close-Reading Questions

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