Some dolphins used by the US Navy to track down mines will soon lose their jobs to robots – but they will be reassigned, not retired.
Starting in 2017, 24 of the navy’s 80 military-trained dolphins will be replaced by a 12ft unmanned torpedo-shaped vehicle, according to the newspaper UT San Diego. The military said the machines can do some of the same mine-hunting duties as the sea creatures.
And they can be manufactured quickly, unlike the seven years it takes to train a dolphin.
But the dolphins will not be relieved of duty. They will be used along with sea lions for port security and retrieving objects from the sea floor, the newspaper reported. The navy’s $28m marine-mammal programme dates back to the late 1950s and once included killer whales and sharks.
Using their innate sonar, the dolphins find and mark mines in shallow water, in deep water when tethers are used, and on the bottom where sediment cover and plant growth can hide the devices.
Dolphins are carried aboard navy ships in large movable pools, about 20ft in diameter.