nypost: The federal Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is conducting research to determine whether various forms of sea life — ranging from bioluminescent plankton to goliath grouper — could serve as spies of sorts for the U.S. military, The Independent reported.
As part of the effort — which DARPA is calling Persistent Aquatic Living Sensors, or PALS — the sea creatures would monitor enemy drones, nuclear submarines and other underwater vehicles, according to the report.
The agency has already doled out a whopping $45 million to five research teams, each examining how a specific marine organism responds to underwater vehicles, the outlet reported.
“The PALS program was developed to leverage the great sensitivity that organisms have in the ocean to changes in their environment,” Lori Adornato, the manager of the initiative, told the outlet.
Living organisms could prove to be useful spies because they can sense sounds, as well as visual, magnetic and chemical cues, Adornato added.
Underwater surveillance is usually conducted using sonar — but adversaries can detect those pings, according to the report. Also, the high cost of sonar sensors, the difficulty in installing them and their tendency to wear out or become coated with underwater organisms, are all downsides of that technology.
“This gives you a lot more flexibility in how you would observe things in the ocean,” Adornato told the outlet. “By taking advantage of organisms, you can then look at persistence and wide-scale coverage as opposed to using one single sensor that does the whole job.”
But there are at least two potential downsides — DARPA will need detectors to pick up on the organisms’ behavior, and those could face the same issues as sonar sensors, experts say.
Then, “you have to have some understanding of animal behavior, and that’s always a huge wild card,” a Kim Martini, a Seattle-based physical oceanographer who is not part of the initiative, told the outlet.
Perhaps the idea of “spy fish” wouldn’t come as a surprise to some.
Last month, a group of Norwegian fishermen spotted a beluga whale they believed was on an international espionage mission from Russia.
Fisherman Joar Hesten told a local television station that he was off the coast of a small Norwegian village when the whale charged toward them while wearing a curious apparatus on its head.
The unusual harness — which appeared to be able to secure a camera or a weapon — was sporting a buckle that read “Equipment of St. Petersburg.”
Source: Published by nypost