The development, training, veterinary care and research facility that supports today's Navy Marine Mammal Program is centered in the Biosciences Division at SSC Pacific. The Navy's work with marine mammals has been ongoing for many years, beginning in the late 1950s when the Navy began to study the unique attributes of marine mammals such as the hydrodynamics of the dolphin. By understanding how dolphins move in the water, perhaps the Navy could improve torpedo, ship and submarine designs. Soon the Navy realized that dolphins would be valuable assistants to Navy divers working in the open ocean. Unlike human divers, dolphins are capable of making repeated deep dives without experiencing "the bends," or decompression sickness. They also found that dolphins and sea lions are highly reliable, adaptable and trainable marine animals that could be conditioned to search for, detect and mark the location of objects in the water.
In the early days of the program, various marine mammal species were considered including: killer whales, pilot whales, belugas (white whales), Steller sea lions, grey seals and fur seals. Other animals were used in various studies pertaining to locating personnel from downed aircraft and creating effective shark deterrents to protect them until they could be rescued. As the animals were assessed for their capabilities, much about their basic biology was learned.