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Airmen transport dolphins to San Diego NMMP

U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program dolphin trainers tend to their dolphins before a flight from Naval Air Station Key West, Fla., to NMMP in San Diego April 29, 2017. The dolphins are trained to find mines because of their excellent sonar and ability to perform many repeat deep water dives. (U.S. Air Force phot/Staff Sgt. Nicole Leidholm)

U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program dolphin trainers tend to their dolphins before a flight from Naval Air Station Key West, Fla., to the NMMP in San Diego April 29, 2017. The dolphins are trained to find mines because of their excellent sonar and ability to perform many repeat deep water dives. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Nicole Leidholm)

A dolphin from the U.S. Naval Marine Mammal Program is prepped to fly from Key West, Fla., to San Diego, April 29, 2017. The 301st Airlift Squadron transported the dolphins and their handlers to the NMMP where the dolphins train to assist the Navy with locating mines and enemy swimmers. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Nicole Leidholm)

A dolphin from the U.S. Naval Marine Mammal Program is prepped to fly from Key West, Fla., to San Diego, April 29, 2017. The 301st Airlift Squadron transported the dolphins and their handlers to the NMMP where the dolphins train to assist the Navy with locating mines and enemy swimmers. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Nicole Leidholm)

Staff Sgt. Suzannah Grant, a 301st Airlift Squadron loadmaster, secures a vehicle during a mission from Naval Air Station Key West, Fla., to San Diego April 29, 2017. The 301st AS transported four Bottlenose Dolphins and their handlers to the U.S. Naval Marine Mammal Program where dolphins train to assist the Navy with locating mines and enemy swimmers. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Nicole Leidholm)

Staff Sgt. Suzannah Grant, a 301st Airlift Squadron loadmaster, secures a vehicle during a mission from Naval Air Station Key West, Fla., to San Diego April 29, 2017. The 301st AS transported four Bottlenose Dolphins and their handlers to the U.S. Naval Marine Mammal Program where dolphins train to assist the Navy with locating mines and enemy swimmers. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Nicole Leidholm)

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AFNS) -- Airmen from the 301st Airlift Squadron transported four Bottlenose Dolphins and their handlers from Naval Air Station Key West, Florida, to the U.S. Naval Marine Mammal Program, San Diego April 29, 2017.

The dolphins were moved to NAS Key West in March where they spent the last month before returning to San Diego.

“The dolphins need to be challenged and get experience in different waters,” said Brit Swenberg, an NMMP biological technician. “It also gets them used to traveling and working out of deployable vehicles.”

NMMP trains dolphins and sea lions to assist the Navy with locating mines and enemy swimmers.

The dolphins use their sonar and have the ability to make repeat dives without experiencing decompression sickness, according to Swenberg.

The flight back to San Diego presented numerous challenges for the pilots because they needed to perform shallow take offs and landings, maintain an altitude of 30,000 feet, have a pressurization below 6,000 feet and ensure the cargo area was kept at 50 degrees Fahrenheit, all while flying as smoothly as possible for the dolphins’ comfort.

“The sensitivity of the cargo posed a unique challenge for us,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Alex Salogub, a 301st AS pilot and the aircraft commander for the mission. “We don’t normally need to worry about pressurization or temperature issues with most cargo. With the C-17’s flexibility and capability as a multi-role aircraft, we are (able to) successfully complete these unique challenges.”

Throughout the flight, the dolphins’ handlers splashed water on them, ensuring their skin didn’t dry out.

Army Capt. Drew Henschen, a NMMP veterinarian, checked the dolphins throughout the flight to ensure no issues developed with them. Henschen explained the marine mammal team came with a full vet clinic to tend to the dolphins’ well-being. The team was capable of performing ultrasounds, X-rays and endoscopies, if needed.

“They are expensive assets for the Navy and take a long time to train,” said Henschen. “We make sure the dolphins are well taken care of and maintain their health. They can only do their jobs to the best of their abilities, same as humans. We want to make sure we are sending healthy animals and they stay healthy.”

Because of the versatility of the C-17, Travis AFB Airmen stand ready to move anything, anytime…anywhere, whether it’s tanks for the Army or dolphins for the Navy, something the Airmen aboard won’t soon forget.

“As loadmasters, we always swap stories about what was the coolest thing you moved,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Suzannah Grant, a 301st AS loadmaster. “Most are helicopters or tanks, but how many people can say they moved dolphins?”

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