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Navy Dolphins Discover Rare Torpedo in Training Exercise

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A sailor works with a bottlenose porpoise before a night training exercise at Point Loma, Calif. US Navy Photo

A sailor works with a bottlenose porpoise before a night training exercise at Point Loma, Calif. US Navy Photo

Two Navy dolphins discovered a more than hundred year-old relic of the service’s past buried in the muck off the coast of Southern California, Navy officals told USNI News on Monday.

On a routine training mission in March, Navy dolphins Ten and Spetz, “discovered an almost completely buried object that was quite rare, Chris Harris, operations supervisor for the Navy’s Marine Mammal Program, told USNI News.
“After it was determined it was safe to move it, the object was brought here to our laboratory for preservation. There they discovered this was probably one of the rarest of marine artifacts.”

The artifact was a mostly intact Howell torpedo, one of the U.S. Navy’s earliest self-propelled torpedoes developed by Capt. John Howell from 1870 to 1888.

A schematic of a Howell Torpedo from an 1800s issue of Proceedings. US Naval Institute Archives

A schematic of a Howell Torpedo from an 1800s issue of Proceedings. US Naval Institute Archives

For more than a hundred years, the torpedo had lain off the coast of Coronado, Calif. until Ten surfaced from a training exercise and bumped the boat with her nose, indicating she had found something under the water.

“The first time the handlers treated it as it was a false positive,” Harris said.
”When the next animal went positive in the same location we decided it was worth investigating because we always trust our dolphins.”

Spetz, the second dolphin, was sent down with a marker to show divers the objects location.

Ten and Spetz are members of the Navy’s Marine Mammal Program that has used dolphins and sea lions to detect mines and protect ships from enemy swimmers since the 1960s.

“There sonar is so sensitive and they are so well adapted to highly cluttered environment they are able to distinguish between a variety of objects,” Harris said.
“Our job is to teach them to look for a specific set of criteria and sometimes that criteria might match other items.”

Currently the Navy has Atlantic bottlenose dolphins and 50 California sea lions as part of the marine mammal program.