CAMP AS SALIYAH, Qatar -- You've heard of bomb-sniffing dogs, but mine-sniffing dolphins?
Coalition forces have brought in two specially trained bottle-nosed Atlantic dolphins to help ferret out mines in the approaches of the port of Umm Qasr, Maj. Gen. Victor Renuart of the Central Command said Tuesday.
The dolphins will help clear the way for the shipment of humanitarian aid to allied-held southern Iraq, Renuart said.
"Our maritime forces are hard at work supporting air operations, maintaining security to the Arabian Gulf for all shipping and completing the difficult task of de-mining Iraqi waters," Renuart said. "They're even using some unique techniques. We have some specially trained dolphins that are out there helping us to determine where mines may be in the channels."
The dolphins, named Makai and Tacoma, were flown into Umm Qasr by U.S. Navy helicopters Tuesday night and were expected to begin searching for mines on Wednesday, according to pool reports.
The dolphins are taught to avoid touching the mines, which might cause them to explode, said Capt. Mike Tillotson, a Navy bomb disposal expert. He said there was little risk to animals doing this kind of work.
The biggest hazard could come from other indigenous dolphins in the waters of Umm Qasr.
Dolphins are territorial and there is a fear local dolphins might drive the interlopers out, causing them to go AWOL.
The Navy started using marine mammals in the early 1960s, when military researchers began looking into how sea mammals' highly developed senses -- like dolphins' sonar -- could be harnessed to locate mines and do other underwater tasks.
Dolphins were used in the 1970s during the Vietnam War. In the late 1980s, six Navy dolphins patrolled the Bahrain harbor to protect U.S. ships from enemy swimmers and mines and escorted Kuwaiti oil tankers through potentially dangerous waters.