As Hurricane Dorian moved toward the U.S. East Coast last week, dolphins and sea lions at the Navy's Strategic Weapons Facility in Kings Bay, Georgia, were transported by truck to the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Panama City to ride out the storm.Tthe marine mammals are an integral part of security for the Georgia installation.
PANAMA CITY BEACH — Almost two dozen Navy marine mammals stationed in Kings Bay, Georgia, were moved out of Hurricane Dorian’s path and taken to shelter at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division (NSWC PCD) this past week, according to a news release from the naval center.
The group of specially trained bottlenose dolphins and sea lions support the Navy’s Strategic Weapons Facility, Atlantic (SWFLANT). They were brought to Panama City Beach in a specially equipped truck operated by a contractor.
According to Mark Patefield, a biological technician from Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific in San Diego, the animals are a key component of the Swimmer Interdiction Security System at (SWFLANT), the Kings Bay installation where they are housed.
“These mammals are one of the underwater security systems that helps protect against any underwater intruder that might come into Kings Bay,” Patefield said in the news release. “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 moved 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,” Patefield said in the release. “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 hurricanes: 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,” Waters said in the news release. “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 at 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 the 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,” Patefield said. “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.”