Military Dolphins Discover Rare Howell Torpedo

The U.S. Navy has found a historic military relic off the California coast thanks to the efforts of its trained bottlenose dolphins.

Good thing they accept payments in fish.

Two dolphins participating in training exercises in the Navy Marine Mammal Program (NMMP) discovered the torpedo off the coast of Coronado, Calif., according to The Los Angeles Times. The dolphins, named Ten and Spetz, made their mutual discovery a week apart.

Ten was the first dolphin to discover the submerged object in an area where no training mines were planted. A week later, Spetz made the same signal in the same area, causing the Navy to investigate the commotion.

When Navy divers found the torpedo, it was in two pieces.

"It was apparent in the first 15 minutes that this was something that was significant and really old," said Navy specialist Christian Harris, operations supervisor for the SSC Pacific Biosciences Division in an interview with Dvid.net. "Realizing that we were the first people to touch it or be around it in over 125 years was really exciting."

The torpedo was later submerged in water in order to preserve it from breaking down in a high-oxygen atmosphere.

The Howell torpedo was developed over 100 years ago, between 1870 and 1889, according the Times. The torpedo was a technological marvel for its time, featuring a 132-pound flywheel which spun at 10,000 rpm at the end of the 11-foot-long brass torpedo. The torpedo had a range of 400 yards, a top speed of 25 knots (28 miles per hour) and delivered a 100 pound payload. It was launched over the water or in a submerged torpedo tube.

More importantly, it was the first stealthy torpedo capable of tracking a target without leaving a tell-tale wake. Only 50 Howell torpedos were ever made before losing out to competition.

Dolphins are particularly favored in NMMP thanks to their eyesight, sonar –– the most advanced sonar known to man –– and their ability to dive in both deep and shallow seas.

The Howell torpedo will be preserved and shipped to Washington Navy Yard in Washington D.C. There it'll be placed in the hands of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Prior to the discovery, there was only one Howell torpedo, housed at the Naval Undersea Museum in Keyport, Wash., in existence.

Ten and Spetz, however, haven't earned a retirement flush with fish yet; they'll be transported to Croatia, where they'll hunt for mines this fall.

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