The United States Navy is mourning the loss of Gunnar, the 38-year-old seal that became a legend for his ability to use a screwdriver and fetching things from the bottom of the ocean floor. Gunnar was one of the few animals actually utilized by the military before retiring to the National Zoo.
"In his career as a Navy seal, Gunnar learned how to insert and remove equipment, use a screwdriver and turn a large wheel valve," the National Zoo said in a statement. Gunnar has been described by the Zoo as "500-pound gentle giant with a mellow nature."
Gunnar was not the only Naval seal at the National Zoo, however. He had a friend named Selkie, who also trained at the Naval Oceans Systems Center in San Diego. According to the Zoo's website, both "could make much deeper dives than their human counterparts and were more efficient and most effective than sending a vessel down to the ocean floor."
The Navy has trained dolphins, seals, sea lions, and beluga whales to detect mines, deliver equipment and guard boats and submarines. The Navy's Marine Mammal Program began in 1960 and, according to PBS, had two goals: "to study the underwater sonar capabilities of dolphins and beluga whales to learn how to design more efficient methods of detecting objects underwater; and to improve the speed of boats and submarines by researching dolphins."
Gunnar and Selkie were chosen to participate in the training and served for six years before retiring to the National Zoo in 1979. They had two pups together, and the pups were then sent to live at an aquarium in New Jersey. Kara and Kjia, the pups, will be returned to the National Zoo in the fall.
The National Zoo revealed that Gunnar's health had been in decline for several months before his death.