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Animals have long been enlisted in various nations’ war and espionage efforts, with the homing pigeon a timeless symbol of animals in war. When a harnessed beluga whale was spotted off the Norwegian coast there were suspicions that it may have been trained to spy on behalf of Russia. There are numerous examples of animals being trained or used for their warning signals or rescue abilities. Owing to the variety of sensory capabilities and behavioural responses, the animal kingdom offers apparently endless uses that hasn’t fully been utilised.

Scientists from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) are now using the natural motion sensors of aquatic life to provide intelligence. There is a role to play for a huge variety of marine creatures, whether large fish or single-celled organisms. A key area of focus is around bioluminescence; that is, the phenomenon among some sealife, such as noctiluca, of reacting to physical disturbance by releasing light. This provides a very literal warning system that could be exploited if it is possible to identify those disturbances that are manmade as opposed to natural. Researchers are relying on machine learning as a way to reliably interpret the data. As well as visual cue, some underwater animals respond to disturbance with sounds that could be monitored through more refined detection technologies. With more sophisticated technology, other behavioural responses such as the movement of fish may be consistent enough to provide evidence of enemy submarines.

Biologists might like to research the role other animals have played in warfare and intelligence gathering. Whilst Politics and Philosophy students could focus on the ethics of using the animal kingdom in this way. Computer Scientists will be interested in the role technology has to play in interpreting the data of these underwater lifeforms.

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