14 Nov 2009

NZ assisting dolphin mine clearance

4:35 pm on 14 November 2009

Naval specialists from New Zealand are taking part in an operation that uses dolphins to clear war mines from waters around New Caledonia.

The specialists are part of a team that also includes experts from France, the United States and Australia, Radio New Zealand International reports.

Operation Lagoon Minex began on Friday and targets sea lanes to the capital Noumea and Prony Bay, where Brazilian nickel company Vale Inco is about to open a port.

There are an estimated 1,600 mines in the area which were planted during World War II to ward off a Japanese invasion. Each mine contains up to 300kg of explosives - enough to destroy a ship.

Four dolphins have been trained to find explosives using the mammal's biological sonar, called echolocation.

Once a dolphin identifies a mine, it drops an electronic signal close by to help divers locate the explosive.

The overseer of the New Zealand navy contingent, Commander David Hedgley, says most of the mines will be taken to deeper water.

"The mines themselves are probably impact mines but they've been sitting on the lagoon for almost 70 years and they're almost part of the sea life themselves. In fact, depending on where they are, they do form almost part of the sea life ecology."

Commander Hedgley says the operation will last two weeks.