Writer's Guide to Government Information

Resources to inject real life detail into your fiction

Navy Marine Mammal Program

Navy Marine Mammal Program – http://www.public.navy.mil/spawar/Pacific/71500/Pages/default.aspx  (Site currently down 9/8/17)   
Try searching “marine mammal” on main site for several links: http://www.navy.mil/

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • When was the Navy training the false killer whale?
  • What sort of tasks were pilot whales trained to do?
  • How does the Navy train marine mammals?


The US Navy equates dolphins and sea lions to dogs. Dogs sniff out bombs and drugs. Dolphins and Sea Lions can locate mines and other items and alert Navy personnel to them. While the Navy has used a number of marine mammal species since the 1960s, according to the website:

Today, the Navy cares for, trains, and relies on two species: the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) and the California sea lion (Zalophus californianus). Both of these species are known for their trainability, adaptability, and heartiness in the marine environment.

The website is divided into a number of sections, including:

  • Animals
  • Training
  • Fleet Systems
  • Health Care
  • Research Programs
  • Frequently Asked Questions

All the sections beside Fleet Systems and Frequently Asked Questions are relatively brief, but still offer useful background. The Animals page has pictures of the various marine mammals used over the years along with the years the Navy used them. The training section has a brief overview of their training methods, along with some pictures of training in progress.

From a writer’s perspective, the Fleet Systems page will probably be the most useful because it goes into significant detail about the different missions assigned to marine mammals including the “quickfind” program where dolphins and sea lions recover materials lost at sea.

The Frequently Asked Questions section has a Q&A on whether the Navy is now or has ever used dolphins to other mammals to attack people and ships. The answer is that it would have been foolish to do so because there is no way to teach mammals the difference between friend and foe. They can find ships and swimmers, but can’t decide whose flag they are under. A few other questions touch on this topic and it’s clear that the Marine Mammal program won’t be showing the 1973 movie “Day of the Dolphin” on movie night anytime soon.


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