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Navy dolphins make a discovery near coast of San Diego

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dolphin1Dolphins trained by the U.S. Navy discovered a rare find off the San Diego coast in the beginning of March, 2013. It has been announced that they located an 11-foot long brass treasure named Howell. The torpedo, used by the Navy 130 years ago, in the late 1800’s, was one of the earliest to be self-propelled. This model was used by battleships until 1898. Of the 50 Howells manufactured, this one found by the dolphins is only the second known to still exist.

The torpedo was located off of Coronado as part of the sea mammal’s training  in searching for mines. This exercise was conducted by the Space and Naval warfare Systems Center Pacific (SSC Pacific) using bottle-nose dolphins.

At one point in the exercise, a dolphin communicated to a trainer that something of interest has been found a distance from the actual area of the training. Chris Harris is an operations supervisor for Space and Navy Warfare Systems’ Marine Mammal Program.

How is this communication accomplished? “When there’s an object of interest discovered, the dolphin comes over and touches the side of the boat in a manner that indicates a positive contact or a negative contact,” said Harris. “In this case the dolphins came over and indicated to the handlers on the boat that they had found something, this is interesting, you’re gonna want to check this out.”

Harris noted that even though the torpedo was buried the dolphins were able to locate it as something that didn’t belong there. “Their superb biological sonar allows them to find objects that can’t be found by any other means,” he said.

Dolphins use echolocation, the bouncing of sounds they create in the form of sharp clicks, that ricochet off of objects. Upon hearing the echoes, the mammals will know both the shape, size, and distance away of objects.dolphin2

In addition, their intelligence allowed them to realize this buried treasure was something their trainers would be interested in.

The dolphins that made the discovery are named Ten and Spetz, and are veterans of the mine-hunting program.

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