While in my position in the Electronic Warfare Division, the Department of the Navy had made a decision to begin a brand new program, at Point Mugu, the study of the Dolphin as a possible help to the Navy in undersea Naval Warfare. It was no accident that I was selected to be a part of this new effort. Because of my SCUBA diving experience and expertise (see my section on SCUBA Instruction), I was chosen as one of six engineers/divers to begin this Navy Special Warfare program.
There was one hitch to moving into this new job. Prior to taking on this new assignment, I was to be sent to Coronado Island in San Diego to go through the Navy UDT/SEAL Diver course at the Navy UDT/SEAL Special Warfare Training facility on Coronado. Navy SEALs were to become the handlers of dolphins that were to be deployed on Special Warfare assignments. I had been through the tough military schools of the Army, Ranger School and Airborne School, so I didn't particularly fear going to this diving school. Besides that, I had been diving for years and knew SCUBA as well as anyone.
This pioneering effort by the Navy to employ dolphins in warfare situations was the beginning of the study of dolphin by either military or civilian organizations.These same dolphins were used in both wars in Iraq, and to this day, Navy SEALS and their dolphins travel from San Diego where the training of these teams is now being done to assignments all over the world.
Large pod of dolphin off Santa Cruz Island just off the Point Mugu training facility. We spent many hours sitting in the middle of these pods, getting to know the animals, how they acted and their general characteristics. We jumped into the water to be among them and they got used to us.
I had just started a fantastic career working for the Navy as a Physicist/Electronic Engineer in the Electronic Warfare Division of the Naval Missile Center. What a job that was! I was excited! I was in the middle of Soviet/U.S. tactics and techniques in the air, and also on top of the latest in the innovative use of air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles that were being tested and evaluated at Point Mugu. I was as happy as a child getting to play in a brand new sand-box, learning new things every day. I was qualified to fly as a crew member in the Navy jets that we had supporting us in electronic warfare. I got to fly almost every day. Then......one day I got a call from the Commanding Admiral's office at Mugu, asking me to come up to his office.
He started off by complimenting me on my work at the Naval Missile Center and especially in Electronic Warfare. Then he dropped the bomb on me. He said he was going to transfer me from Electronic Warfare to a brand new job with a brand new program for the Navy....The Navy Dolphin Program. I told the Admiral that I was very happy where I was, and he proceeded to tell me that he really didn't care what I thought about the move, that for the good of the Navy, this transfer was going to take place. I wasn't a very happy camper at that point, but then again, I didn't know what I was in for.
After working with missiles and electronic systems for several years, now this, that I have just been pushed into - the Navy Dolphin Program, right there at Point Mugu! How do you go from the missile business to the underwater dolphin business overnight? I did it, not really by choice at the beginning.
I was a certified SCUBA Underwater Instructor, just having gone through the Los Angeles County Underwater Instructor's Program in Los Angeles, and also having been one of the first to put together the makings of the National Association of Underwater Instructors. There were just a few of us certified to teach SCUBA at that time, very few in California and even less in other parts of the U.S. and the world. So the Navy Program Managers took advantage of an asset that they had right there at their finger tips exactly where they were going to start this brand new program. I had a deep faith in God always working in my life, and you can imagine what I thought at this moment in time. Why have I been chosen for this new type program? What is in store for me?
I was spending almost every night and all day on weekends in the water, either in pools or in the ocean. Many, if not most of my students at the beginning were Navy people. Commanding officers at the Naval Construction Batallion base at Port Hueneme were anxious to have all their people go through basic SCUBA courses prior to being shipped out to assignments all over the world, especially in the Pacific where diving was the thing to do.
So I had hundreds of Navy students every day after my normal working hours. And my reputation as an Instructor had grown. So I guess in looking back, it was only a natural selection that pushed the Navy Brass to assign me to the newly organized Dolphin Program.
The Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin, our primary study subject. This animal demonstrated the best chance we had to determine the value that the dolphin might have in Special Warfare where the animal had to perform as he or she had been taught.
Official Navy SEAL Patch
Never in a thousand years did I ever imagine that some day I would be privileged to go through the Navy UDT/SEAL training program. I had many friends that were ex-UDT swimmers, but I saw no way I could ever go through the course. Until now!
Four of us from Pt. Mugu, would not have gone through the course if our Commanding Admiral did not insist that to work in the Navy's new Dolphin Program we would all have to certified as official Navy UDT/SEALS. It was imperitive, according to the Admiral, who had a Captain under him that was a UDT/SEAL, that all of us thoroughly understand those who would be managing the operation of the Navy Dolphin Program once the dolphins were ready to enter combat operations. We had to become qualified Navy SEALs so that we could be closer to the ultimate user of the dolphins in their warfare.
So we all went to Coronado Island, a Chief, two First Class Petty Officers and myself, where the training was given. A special undocumented class was organized for our group. We were not to join a UDT/SEAL team - our purpose for going through the training was to familiarize ourselves with the training for use with the students (SEALS) that would be joining the dolphin effort. In our class were a dozen or so Army Special Forces Officers. They were going through the Navy class to know what they had to do to set up an Army training course on the East Coast for Army Special Forces people (Green Berets) who would be serving in the water.
This is Tuffy, one of our earliest recruits from the wilds of the ocean. We flew down to Pensacola Florida where he was being held in a pen for us. A fisherman had caught him in his nets and asked the Navy if they wanted him. He was all cut up from fights with sharks and other marine animals. We found out on the transcontinental trip with him that he was going to be tough to get along with. He bit all of us, and would not quiet down on the trip. We began to call him "the tough one", Tuffy for short.
Tuffy in open water tests in San Diego Bay. He was a natural for the Navy program.
As I sit now in my comfortable home, 50 years since the Navy initiated its Dolphin Program, I can hardly believe all that I have been through in my life. This period has to be one of the most fantastic, being among the first to have ever studied the dolphin up close and then learned how to handle them and train them to perform tasks that we wanted them to do. We didn't even know at the start if we could keep these animals alive and well. There were no "study books" on the dolphin. No one had ever treated them for any physical problems. We didn't know if they would eat At this time there were no "dolphin shows" as we know them now, no books on dolphins, and except for the Russians, there was virtually no one studying this magnificent animal of the sea.
We wished at the beginning of the program we had had diagrams like this, but there weren't any! No one had ever studied the anatomy. But as we began to lose animals for a variety of reasons, we had a team of physiologists from UCLA and USC that helped with the necropsy of each animal.
We began with the very basics, how to feed them and how to keep them alive. We had no idea what the normal body temperature was for a dolphin, and we did not know what they would eat, or how to feed them. We had some very funny experiences in the early days, and some not so funny. Taking the termperature was an experience. We used a horse thermometer and had a hard time figuring out which of the openings in the body to insert this instrument. The dolphins taught us! We also did not know what if any medications we could give them and how to give it to them.
The Navy Dolphin Program Today
The program today has made some changes in location, going first from Point Mugu to Hawaii and finally to San Diego, housed at the Naval Special Warfare Center on Point Loma. Training goes on with the animals and they travel from San Diego to whereever in the world they are required. The Navy provides the handlers through the Special Warfare Center at Coronado (UDT/SEAL school). These handlers are taught how to manipulate the animals so that they can use them in many situations.
Fifty years after the start of the Navy Dolphin Program at Point Mugu, the Navy now routinely uses both dolphins and sea lions in their warfare planning. This one page article is from Popular Mechanics magazine issue ofr June 2010 is taken at the new San Diego home of the Navy's Marine Mammal Program which includes these animals.
Early in the program, we knew we were going to have to teach the animals to jump in and out of boats on their own. So we began this training almost at the start. Now, the SEALS use boats such as this to tranport the animals to the site of where they want them to work. The dolphins leap out of the boat on command and then when they are done, they come back to the boat and leap back into their comfortable pad. They get some goodies to eat, too!
Dick Holt, LA County and NAUI Instructor and graduate of the Navy UDT/SEAL school
More coming soon!!
The Dolphin Program was temporarily halted in late 1962. This came about because of the death of most of our animals from a very bad water supply to our tanks. The top Navy Department leaders took this as a time to evalate the benefits of spending more money on the Dolphin Program. During this lull in the Program, I was offered a chance to return to school at Navy expense and get my doctorate in Physical Oceanography at Texas A&M. On the way to school, I passed through Houston where a new government program, NASA was just establishing a new Manned Space Program. I was introduced by my former boss at Point Mugu, Navy Captain Bill Wakeland, to the first NASA Flight Operations Director, Christopher C. Kraft, Jr. who was to lead this country in flying men into space. Captain Wakeland had recently been assigned to NASA as one of the Department of Defense (DOD) reps for the NASA use of military intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) as the launch vehicles for the manned spacecraft they planned to use. Mr. Kraft offered me a position that was too good to refuse. I was enthralled with this new venture, so I agreed to forgo my education and become a member of NASA. I was one of the original team that established the Manned Space Center in Houston, Texas.