Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Pentagon is doing animals again.

When I first read Jon Ronson's book, The Men Who Stare At Goats I was, well, slack-jawed for about a week. It took a long time to grasp that the subject of Ronson's book was non-fiction.

So, I should have known that this was coming. I used to work with people who thought this kind of thing up. From ABC (Australia) News:

"The Pentagon hopes to exploit sharks' natural ability to glide quietly through the water, sense delicate electrical gradients and follow chemical trails," says the report.
"By remotely guiding the sharks' movements they hope to transform the animals into stealth spies, perhaps capable of following vessels without being spotted."
And how's it going?

A team at Boston University have implanted electrodes into the brain of a spiny dogfish in a shallow tank.
The implants, controlled by a small radio transmitter, stimulate either the right or left side of a brain area dedicated to smell, causing the fish to flick around in that direction in response to the signal.
The project is coming from the Pentagon's Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Now, before you get all huffy about this, remember this - DARPA was the agency, way back in 1969 who commissioned ARPANET to research a project on data transfer. That eventually became the internet.

No matter, they keep fooling with animals. I personally, don't like spiny dogfish, particularly when I'm trying to catch one of these, but that's beside the point.

Blue sharks implanted with the gadget are to be released off the coast of Florida.

As radio signals will not penetrate the sea, communications with the fish will be made through US Navy acoustic towers capable of sending sonar signals to a shark up to 300 kilometres away.

That sounds like either ATOC or LFA and that is really going to twist a few environmentalists and not just a few marine biologists. Both systems have been subject to extreme criticism for the effects they seem to have on marine life, particularly large marine mammals.

These signals help the fish to navigate and offer the reward of food, and could thus in theory be manipulated for surveillance work.
Uhh, surveillance work?

Well, call me suspicious, but how about if we go back here again. (The US Navy's kindergarten description of the SURTASS LFA system). Now, if you can reduce the strength of the pulse so that, oh, say, only Herman the hammerhead shark can receive it on his implant and then manipulate his brain into sniffing out the residual trail of, oh, say, a submarine, the risk of the signal being detected by the submarine is reduced.

But that's only speculation. What do I know?

The study is reported in the New Scientist.

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