Navy dolphins find rare torpedo built in the late 1800s
SAN DIEGO — In the ocean off Coronado, Calif., a Navy team has discovered a relic worthy of display in a military museum: a torpedo of the kind deployed in the late 19th century, considered a technological marvel in its day.
But don't look for the primary discoverers to get a promotion — although they might get an extra fish for dinner.
The so-called Howell torpedo was discovered by bottlenose dolphins being trained by the Navy to find undersea objects, including mines, that not even billion-dollar technology can detect.
“Dolphins naturally possess the most sophisticated sonar known to man,” Braden Duryee, an official at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific said.
The Howell torpedo was hailed as a breakthrough when the United States was in competition for dominance on the high seas. It was the first torpedo that could truly follow a track without leaving a wake and then smash a target, according to Navy officials.
Only 50 were made between 1870 and 1889 by a Rhode Island company before a rival copied and surpassed the Howell's capability.
Until recently only one Howell torpedo was known to exist, on display at a museum.
Meant to be launched from above the water or submerged torpedo tubes, the Howell torpedo was made of brass, 11 feet long, driven by a 132-pound flywheel spun to 10,000 rpm before launch. It had a range of 400 yards and a speed of 25 knots.
Its specifications seem primitive today, but in the late 1800s, it was a leap forward in military armament.
“Considering it was made before electricity was provided to U.S. households, it was pretty sophisticated for its time,” said Christian Harris, operations supervisor for the biosciences division at the Systems Center Pacific.
At the Point Loma facility, 80 dolphins and 40 sea lions are being trained for mine detection, mine clearing and swimmer protection. When the United States led an invasion of Iraq in 2003, dolphins were rushed to the Persian Gulf.
If a dolphin finds something, it is trained to surface and touch the front of the boat with its snout.
When a dolphin named Ten surfaced from a shallow-water dive last month and gave the signal, Navy specialists were nonplused. “It went positive in a place we didn't expect,” said Mike Rothe, who heads the marine program.
A week later, a dolphin named Spetz did the same thing in the same area. This time, the dolphin was ordered to take a marker to the object.
“We've never found anything like this,” said Rothe, his voice full of admiration.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- GAO: Waste of natural gas costing taxpayers millions
- Oil train derailment prompts evacuation in North Dakota town
- Trucking interests trump safety in $55.3B transportation spending bill
- AG vows to help better Baltimore police
- 56 years later, Ohio fugitive captured in Florida
- Accused Texas gunman was former target of FBI terror probe
- Federal appeals court flips on cell location records ruling in Florida
- Texas attack called ‘textbook’ lone-wolf case
- Researchers find new, elusive bird species
- Rift invites talk of Florida split
- VA probe ‘for show,’ cardiologist claims