Navy Sea Lions End Tour Of Duty

Zak, a 375-pound California sea lion, leaps back into the boat following his harbor patrol training exercises in the waters of the coast of Bahrain, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2003. Zak, who is participating in the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Centers Shallow Water Intruder Detection System (SWIDS) program, is trained to locate swimmers near piers, ships, and other objects in the water considered suspicious and a possible threat to military forces in the area. AP

Its a time of hero's welcomes for America's returning war veterans, but as CBS News Correspondent Jerry Bowen reports, it's another day of quarantine for America's three secret weapons: Navy sea lions Zak, Bently and Alexander the Great.

The latter was given the big name "cause he was a real small guy when he was a pup," says operations supervisor Steve Hugueley.

The seals are part of the military menagerie sent off to war. While dolphins hunted for mines at the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr, Zak, Bently and Alex were on guard for enemy divers in waters off Bahrain.

"They tell us if there's a swimmer in the water and if there is, they can put what we call a handcuff on - a grabber that's put on a persons' leg," says Hugueley.

It worked in practice but in seven weeks of patrolling not a single enemy diver was detected or reeled in.

"The knowledge that animals are there is the biggest deterrent," says Hugueley.

Still, back home they're in quarantine until it's certain they didn't pick up some strange foreign bug. And at the other end of the pier, a new class is in basic training:

"They can see better and hear better underwater in low light and dive deeper than humans can," says trainer Joy Rothe.

They learn to use a bite plate; to hold the clamp that attaches to objects or intruders. And in the open water they learn to come back when called.

Like any new recruits these sea lions require lots of training. They are at least two to five years away from being ready to go to war.

Besides raw fish, what motivates them?

"It becomes a game to them," says Hugueley. "We want them to find that target and they get reinforced for finding this target."

And most are related to a single notorious sea lion exiled years ago to Sea World from Seattle waters for poaching too many fish.

"The father of our sea lions used to hang out at Ballard Locks, eating all the salmon," says Hugueley.

While the father might have been an outlaw of sorts, the kids have turned themselves around and earned a grateful nation's seal of approval.
  • Jaime Holguin

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