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Remnants of war: U.S. navy dolphins make a splash in Montenegro.

Montenegro's stunning Bay of Kotor, with its sheer mountains plunging into the Adriatic and its walled medieval cities, hosts thousands of visitors from around the world each year. But in October, six unusual visitors from San Diego grabbed the attention of the Montenegrin people and earned their gratitude. In the first joint effort between the State Department and the U.S. Navy's Marine Mammal Program (MMP), six specially trained U.S. Navy bottlenose dolphins and their handlers spent three weeks identifying and marking underwater explosive remnants of war (ERW) in the Bay of Kotor.

During this exercise, U.S. Navy explosive ordnance disposal divers provided instruction for their Montenegrin, Slovenian and Croatian counterparts in the first comprehensive training in clearing underwater ERW conducted by the Department of Defense's (DOD) Humanitarian Mine Action (HMA) program.


In October, an MMP team of 23 Americans and six dolphins arrived on a U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo airplane at Tivat Airport along with 11 members of the U.S. Navy's Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit One.

After almost three years of coordinated planning involving all sections of the U.S. Embassy in Podgorica, the DOD, and the Montenegrin government.

In October, an MMP team of 23 Americans and six dolphins arrived on a U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo airplane at Tivat Airport along with 11 members of the U.S. Navy's Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit One. The embassy's Defense Attache Office led this coordinated effort over the past three years to bring the program to Montenegro. Planning involved all embassy sections and partnership with DOD and the government of Montenegro and its Ministry of Defense and Navy, setting the stage for detecting the large amount of ERW in the Bay of Kotor, some dating to both world wars.

The exercise aimed to help the Montenegrin government identify the ERW in the bay, home to a large amount of ERW, some of it dating from both world wars. The program relied on the dolphins' unique abilities and trained the Montenegrin Navy in techniques to search for, locate, mark and identify the ordnance, an environmental and safety risk to the residents, tourists, cruise ships and recreational vessels.


The MMP dolphins are trained to locate underwater ERW using their biological sonar capabilities. Human divers and technology such as radar and sonar cannot match the dolphin's capabilities. When a dolphin detected a suspected ERW during the exercise, its handler gave it a marker, which the dolphin then placed near the object. The dolphin team then left the area and Navy divers and Montenegrin Navy were sent to conduct their own dives in the area and identify the object the dolphin originally marked.

Divers from Slovenia and Croatia also participated, making this a multinational exercise. The training and technical assistance included underwater searching and navigation, ERW reacquisition, diving medicine and casualty evacuation. The exercise, the first comprehensive underwater ERW clearance-training by the HMA program, aided Montenegro as well. That nation wants to join NATO, and the exercise let its naval personnel train with allied militaries, promoting mine-counter-measures skills and NATO interoperability.

Aiming to raise the skill levels of Montenegrin Navy divers, Ambassador Sue K. Brown presented them more than $70,000 in special diving equipment purchased through the U.S. European Command's HMA Program. The exercise with dolphins and divers was also made possible by a $100,000 grant from the Department's Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement.


The exercise received extensive media coverage, including a story in the U.S. military publication Stars and Stripes. Montenegrin citizens of all ages also were eager to see the dolphins. In a country with no public aquarium, crowds gathered daily at an adjacent pier to see and photograph the mammals from a short distance. They also were days set aside for public viewings, and an open house that garnered media coverage on the dolphins' skills, achievements of the Montenegrin Navy and U.S.-Montenegrin partnership.

After nearly a month in the Bay of Kotor, the dolphins returned to San Diego. Embassy Podgorica, led by the Defense Attache Office, will now compile and present to the Montenegrin government the location coordinates of the ERW identified during the exercise. The Montenegrin Navy, in turn, will use that information, plus its training from the exercise and the donated equipment, to begin the process of removing ERW from the bottom of the bay--making it as beautiful and safe as the surrounding landscape.

By Marko Cimbaljevich, political-economic officer, U.S. Embassy in Podgorica
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Author:Cimbaljevich, Marko
Publication:State Magazine
Date:Jan 1, 2013
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