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Navy dolphin trainer drowns in San Diego Bay

A contractor with a Navy program that trains dolphins and sea lions for missions drowned during a nighttime exercise in San Diego Bay, the first death for the program that started in 1959, a Navy spokesman said Wednesday.

Navy spokesman Jim Fallin said 29-year-old Coll Perske was part of a team of contractors with Virginia-based Science Applications International Corp. (NYSE: SAIC) on Monday, training Navy dolphins and sea lions to intercept someone in the water. The San Diego County coroner's office says colleagues pulled Perske out of the water and he was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.

The Navy is investigating the incident but initial reports indicate the mammals had no contact with Perske before he failed to resurface, Fallin said.

The Navy's $28 million marine mammal program, headquartered in San Diego, trains 80 bottlenose dolphins and 40 California sea lions to do everything from finding underwater mines to stopping enemy divers. The mammals, with good eyesight, sonar and diving abilities, have also been used to protect ports.

The program's nonessential training is on hold during the investigation, Fallin said.

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