Two bottlenose dolphins discovered a late 19th-century torpedo during a U.S. Navy training exercise near Coronado Island, reports the Los Angeles Times.
The mammals’ sophisticated sonar detected the object that not even billion-dollar technology could have recognized.
“To train the dolphins, Navy specialists sink objects of various shapes in rocky and sandy undersea areas where visibility is poor. The shapes mimic those of the mines used by U.S. adversaries,” the LA Times said. “A dolphin is then ordered to dive and search. If it finds something, it is trained to surface and touch the front of the boat with its snout. If it has found nothing, it touches the back of the boat.”
At first, Navy specialists ignored the positive response of the first dolphin named Ten because no training devices had been placed in that area.
But after a second dolphin named Spetz gave a positive response in the same area a week later, Spetz was ordered to take a marker down to the object’s site. Human divers were then sent down and found the so-called Howell torpedo in two pieces.
A Rhode Island-based company made only 50 of the torpedos between 1870 and 1889 before a rival company surpassed the Howell’s capabilities.
Before the two dolphins discovered the Howell, only one other example of the torpedo–currently on display at the Naval Undersea Museum in Keyport, Wash.–was known to exist.
“We’ve never found anything like this,” Mike Rothe, who heads the Navy’s marine mammal program, told the LA Times. “Never.”