For the not so princely pay of $17.67 an hour, graduate students at San Diego State University are being offered the opportunity to work for Uncle Sam’s top-secret military dolphin program, according to a recent online job posting by the San Diego State University Research Foundation. Controversial in some quarters, a major portion of the Navy’s marine mammal brigade is currently employed in the Persian Gulf to counter the threat of Iranian mines. “The US Navy uses trained bottlenose dolphins to find underwater mines and to detect and interdict waterborne intruders,” says the notice. “To accomplish these tasks, dolphins rely on their biological sonar (biosonar). Dolphin biosonar capabilities currently exceed those of man-made sonars, particularly when attempting to detect/discriminate objects in shallow, cluttered environments.
“Particularly interesting questions concern how dolphins perform feature extraction from a set of echoes and what salient echo properties identify target characteristics such as shape, material, and density,” says the job description. “In this project, behavior and performance of trained dolphins are assessed while the animals perform a variety of phantom echo detection and discrimination tasks.” Successful applicants will be proficient in the “use of basic lab equipment (e.g., oscilloscope, function generator, voltmeter)” and have “basic soldering skills.” Details and costs of the SDSU foundation’s contract with the Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command aren’t provided; the British Broadcasting Corporation reported earlier this month that the Navy is planning to phase out dolphins in favor of underwater robots by 2017.