State-of-the-art 19th-century torpedo was discovered by Navy dolphins

Illustration for article titled State-of-the-art 19th-century torpedo was discovered by Navy dolphins

In the late 19th century, the Howell torpedo was an incredibly advanced piece of military equipment, a breakthrough device in the United States' quest to achieve naval dominance. But only one surviving Howell torpedo was known to exist—until Navy dolphins nosed up another.


The US Navy employs bottlenose dolphins to locate underwater military equipment that can't yet be detected by machines. Using their sonar, the dolphins search for objects—usually mines—on the ocean floor. If they detect an object, they are trained to tap their noses to the front of the boat where the Navy specialists are waiting. If they find nothing in the area, they tap the back of the boat instead.

The LA Times reports that, when the dolphins started indicating positive results in an unexpected area, the specialist ordered one of the dolphins to take a marker to the object. Sure enough, Navy divers uncovered a lost piece of military technology: a Howell torpedo. The torpedo was in two pieces, was inert, and bore the stamp "USN No. 24."


Only 50 Howell torpedos were made between 1870 to 1889. At the time, they were considered a highly sophisticated torpedo, able to follow a track without leaving a wake. The 11-foot-long brass torpedos had a range of 400 yards and could reach a speed of 25 knots.

What's especially remarkable is that the dolphins who discovered the object are specifically trained to find objects shaped like mines. And yet, they were able to detect this broken device without any sort of reference, a device that has long been lost beneath the waters.

Photo Credit: US Navy

Navy dolphins discover rare old torpedo off Coronado [LA Times via reddit]


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Dolphins are more intelligent than we think.