The US military are planning to utilise marine animals that have natural sensing capabilities to assist with their underwater spy work. The Pentagon’s research arm, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), has reportedly launched a new program that will tap into the skills of these animals that are well attuned to their surroundings, in order to “track enemy traffic undersea”.
The Biological Technologies Office DARPA project, named the Persistent Aquatic Living Sensors (PALS) program, is planning to use a range of genetically modified organisms, from bacteria to large fish, to find vehicles underwater using the organism’s reactions to their surroundings before sending the information to a database.
A press release that describes the program said it would “study natural and modified organisms (emphasis added) to determine which ones could best support sensor systems that detect the movement of manned and unmanned underwater vehicles. Beyond sheer ubiquity, sensor systems built around living organisms would offer a number of advantages over hardware alone. Sea life adapts and responds to its environment, and it self-replicates and self-sustains. Evolution has given marine organisms the ability to sense stimuli across domains — tactile, electrical, acoustic, magnetic, chemical, and optical. Even extreme low light is not an obstacle to organisms that have evolved to hunt and evade in the dark.”
The program is currently on the lookout for help to capture the natural and transgenic responses of marine organisms, to then interpret the responses and send them to a network of devices. DARPA have so far said that intelligent mammals and endangered species will not be used, although there is no definite statement on how they define “intelligent animals”. Some reports have pointed speculation to the fact that the US Navy is currently holding almost 100 dolphins captive in San Diego for experiments and military use.
One worry becoming apparent is that if the modified organisms are set free into the ocean, they will breed with the untouched individuals, thereby causing more marine organisms to have genetically modified traits. This could go further into creating an entire marine ecosystem of GM organisms, of which we cannot predict the implications.
A VICE report has since pointed out that, “to actually deploy modified species, the military would have to release them into the wild, where they could drive out, out-eat, or outbreed unmodified species.” A further worry is that humans may eat these GM sea creatures, causing further concern as the implications of eating GM food has not yet been fully identified.
Along with these health concerns for both animals and people, is the thought that it is morally wrong to use these animals in this way – being taken out of their natural marine ecosystem and being forced to be spies for the US military is not a natural way of life for these organisms that keep the world’s oceans in balance.
I’m Jess Murray, wildlife conservationist, photographer and writer. Follow my Facebook page and Instagram account to be part of the journey. I like to document the natural world and create awareness through my writing so that your future can be sustainable and positive.
Image Credit: US Navy