Though their days of scouting out mines beneath the ocean are numbered, dolphins still have a few detective skills hidden up their sleeves. In the sleeves of their dolphin shirts.
Navy-trained bottlenose dolphins searching off the coast of Coronado, California stumbled upon an 11-foot-long brass torpedo, discovered to be a Howell torpedo, one of only 50 manufactured by a Rhode Island company between 1870 and 1889, during a time when the U.S. was trying to up their Naval muscle. They were the first torpedoes to follow a track clandestinely, traveling at 25 knots with a range of 400 yards. Pretty tough little bastards, though they were soon outdated by better weapons, and so goes the cyclical nature of things.
“Considering it was made before electricity was provided to U.S. households, it was pretty sophisticated for its time,” said Christian Harris, a biosciences operations supervisor at the Systems Center Pacific.
The dolphins found the torpedo in two pieces, in an area where no one expected to find anything. Years in the water had left it harmless, thankfully, though they could still read “USN No. 24” stamped on the side.
What makes the find even more impressive is that only one other Howell torpedo is known to exist, and it is on display at the Naval Undersea Museum in Keyport, Washington. A craftier dolphin would have seen a good opportunity to get away with an American treasure, maybe selling it on the Russian black market. Chances are, it will find a place either next to its old twin or in some other museum, where it won’t take a dolphin to find it in the years to come.
Check out the displayed torpedo below.