By Danielle DeSimone
It is officially Discovery Shark Week 2020! As the longest-running cable television programming event in history, Shark Week has been terrifying and educating viewers on sharks since 1988. But did you know the U.S. military is also connected to these monsters of the deep?
Take a bite out of these seven shark military facts:
1. The Navy Tried to Train Sharks
You’ve heard all about military working dogs, but did you know there was once a plan to train military sharks? Believe it or not, after World War II, the U.S. military attempted to train sharks to serve as underwater suicide bombers. With the use of electrodes, the Navy tried to teach sharks to stealthily swim and deliver bombs to their targets.
Unfortunately, sharks are not easily-trained and the military abandoned the project. However, the Navy has successfully trained bottle nose dolphins and California sea lions in its U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program. Today, these animals are used in surveillance missions, underwater recoveries and identification of unauthorized swimmers and divers near Navy operations.
2. The Army Uses Shark Skin to Build Faster Planes
In 2019, the Army revealed that it was studying the shortfin mako shark – the world’s fastest-swimming shark – in an attempt to build faster aircraft. Known as “torpedoes with teeth,” mako sharks, an endangered species, can swim at estimated speeds of 45 miles per hour.
The Army’s research, which is being funded by Boeing, a USO corporate partner, is looking into the way Mako scales, called “denticles,” respond to speed and water flow, which could inform science to build new, improved aircraft.
3. A Former Marine is a Shark Week Star
Rob Riggle - an actor, comedian and former Marine Corps Reserve officer - has starred in Shark Week programming over the past few years. His 2019 appearance included a “Shark Trip”-style show with celebrity friends. Riggle, who is also a USO tour veteran, joined the Marines in 1990 and served as a public affairs officer, eventually retiring as a lieutenant colonel. During his military career, Riggle was deployed to Liberia, Kosovo, Albania and Afghanistan, and would later travel with the USO on several entertainment tours to visit troops stationed around the world.
4. The Navy is Researching Shark Blood
Sharks haven’t had to evolve much since the days of the dinosaurs, thanks to strong antibodies in their blood that protect them from disease and foreign toxins. The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory is looking into how shark’s blood antibodies could possibly be used as a defense in chemical and biological warfare.
5. Military Units and Ships are Named After Sharks
There are several military units and ships named after sharks. Examples include the USS Shark (which has been the name of several Navy ships and submarines), the Marine Wing Support Squadron 371 (known as the “Sand Sharks”) and the Air Force 75th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron (nicknamed “Tiger Sharks,”).
The “Tiger Sharks” have a history dating back to World War II, when they were first known as the “Flying Tigers.” The squadron became famous for its efforts in the China theatre, as well as for its distinctive airplane nose art, which was painted with a distinctive shark face with open jaws on the nose of their P-40 Warhawks.
6. The Navy Has a Robot Shark
The Navy has designed an underwater drone that looks and moves just like a shark. The drone, called GhostSwimmer, is part of the Navy’s Silent NEMO Project, and is just one of many biomimicry projects the military has undertaken in the past few years.
GhostSwimmer can operate in water depths from 10 inches to 300 feet and has the potential to be used for intelligence gathering and surveillance missions. In other words, it’s the world’s very first spy shark!
7. Navy SEALs Train For How to Survive A Shark Attack
During a required five and a half-mile night swim during Navy SEAL training, students make their way through the waters surrounding San Clemente Island, just off the coast of San Diego, California.
The chilly waters of the Pacific Ocean also happen to be prime feeding grounds for great white sharks, and this particular coastline has seen an increasing number of young, male great white sharks in the waters.
Before they begin their swim, students are briefed on all of the various species of sharks in the water in addition to tactics on how to survive a potential attack. If you want to learn how to battle a shark like a Navy SEAL, former SEAL Clint Emerson has created the perfect how-to guide for fighting off a shark attack.
-This story was first published on USO.org in 2019. It has been updated in 2020.
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