A Plan To Use Marine Animals As Military Sea-Spies

Marine organisms’ behavioural changes will be analysed to detect any underwater activity
Photo Credit: Jeremy Bishop

A military program called The Persistent Aquatic Living Sensors (PALS), is planning to use marine biology for military monitoring activities, which is run by the US Department of Defence.

Their aim is to change the existing hardware-based monitoring system by making the sea life do the spying. PALS program hopes that the marine organisms’ engrained ability to sense and respond to changes in the sea, can be applied to detect adversary activities underwater. These activities from small vessels to large military submarines, manned or unmanned would then be detected, analysed, categorised and investigated.

The reason this kind of idea would work, is marine life is well adapted to their environment, are self-sufficient and always in alert for any environmental change. Plus this kind of project would be more cost-effective, persistent and inconspicuous. And the logistical footprint would be minimal.

The plan will be in two stages. In the first part, the marine life (Fish and other organisms) would detect changes in their seawater environment. This could be from a man-made to a natural incident. Then they emit signals or reacts appropriately to that particular stimuli. The second part of the plan would be to detect these reactions made by sea life through man-made equipment/ systems. This could mean anything from monitoring the movements of a school of Tuna to a growth or depletion of marine microorganisms like planktons.

These would then be analysed and filtered to distinguish between a natural incident  (such as other organisms or debris) from any other man-made adversary activity, to minimise any false positives. And the end report would then be passed on to the remote end-users as filtered alerts. Appropriate funds have already been allocated to research groups. They have begun working on different marine organisms and implementing technologies to monitor them and extract information back to the end-users.

What kind of organisms are being tested?

  • Snapping shrimp is thought to be emitting a noise of 200 decibels, a possible natural sonar.
  • A territorial fish called ‘Goliath grouper’ said to be creating ‘booms’ as responses to large stimuli such as intruders.

The federal Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) administrates this programme. There are several other similar programmes in action like this.

  • The study of genetically modified plants to behave as environmental sensors.
  • Infecting insects with synthetic viruses, to spread on crops making those plants genetically modified.

In this particular experiment, PALS hope is to extend the lifetime and quality of their surveillance capacity by combining marine life with their expanded detection systems.