Naval Surface Warfare Center sheltered dolphins, sea lions during Hurricane Dorian


Navy trainers reinforce positive behavior with bottlenose dolphins during a recent visit to Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division. (U.S. Navy photo/Eddie Green)

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — Almost two dozen Navy marine mammals stationed in Kings Bay, Ga. moved out of Hurricane Dorian’s path and sought shelter at Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division (NSWC PCD) this past week.

The group of specially trained bottlenose dolphins and sea lions support the Department of the Navy’s Strategic Weapons Facility, Atlantic (SWFLANT).

According to Mark Patefield, a biological technician from Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Pacific, in San Diego, Calif., the animals are a key component of the Swimmer Interdiction Security System at SWFLANT.

“These mammals are one of the underwater security systems that helps protect against any underwater intruder that might come into Kings Bay,” said Patefield. “The dolphins’ own biological sonar can detect any type of underwater intruder in murky water. The sea lions are able to efficiently interdict an underwater intruder.”

Patefield and the team of trainers, divers, and veterinarians were able to quickly move the mammals to a safe environment before Hurricane Dorian made landfall.

“The safety and care of our animals and our personnel is paramount; that’s what led us here to Panama City,” said Patefield. “NSWC PCD opened up their facilities to us for the time that we needed. This is a fantastic facility to allow us to shield our team from the path of Hurricane Dorian.”

Nicole Waters, NSWC PCD Fabrication and Prototype Shops project manager, said the NSWC PCD team has successfully moved the Kings Bay sea lions and dolphins for three separate hurricanes including Hurricane Matthew (2016), Hurricane Irma (2017), and now Hurricane Dorian (2019).

“At NSWC PCD, we personally understand the trials and tribulations that come with the devastation of a hurricane, especially after Hurricane Michael severely impacted our area in 2018,” said Waters. “We strongly support the One Team, One Fight initiative and will always be willing to help protect any Navy personnel and assets.”
During their time aboard NSWC PCD, the mammals did not conduct operations or training. The goal was to maintain the welfare of the animals.

Patefield said the biggest takeaway is that these animals are proficient at what they do.

“We have a very high success rate with these animals. Our goal and purpose is that these animals get the best care possible,” said Patefield. “This is a perfect example of that – including the personnel and teammates that come together like a family. We have a lot of good people who are supporting these animals in the best way possible.”

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