13 Nov 2009

Dolphins used as trackers in New Caledonia mine operation

3:40 pm on 13 November 2009

Dolphins are an integral part of an international operation that began today to clear wartime mines from New Caledonian waters.

Naval experts from France, the United States, Australia and New Zealand have joined the operation, which targets the sea lanes to Noumea and Prony Bay where the Brazilian Vale Inco nickel company is about to open a port.

The estimated 1,600 mines remaining from almost 1,900 thought to have been planted in the lagoon during the Second World War to ward off a possible Japanese invasion, each contains up to 300 kilogrammes of explosives or enough to sink a ship.

Our correspondent in Noumea, Claudine Wery, says the US is using four dolphins to find the mines.

"Because it's difficult to know where exactly the mines are so these animals are trained to find exploding devices and they're trained to put an electronic signal close to them to help the divers to find the mines."

Claudine Wery in New Caledonia.

The operation, dubbed Lagoon Minex, finishes in two weeks.