Dolphins Find 19th Century Navy Torpedo In Pacific Ocean

A rare piece of America’s military history was located this spring, when dolphins from the Navy’s Marine Mammal Program located an unusual artifact: a torpedo from the 19th century. Discovered during a training exercise in the ocean near San Diego, the torpedo will eventually make its way to a museum.

The bottlenose dolphins were honing their ability to find underwater mines when the discovery was made. The torpedo did not have a warhead, Navy officials say.

“The Howell torpedo, one of the first self-propelled torpedoes developed and used by the U.S. Navy, was discovered off the San Diego coast,” reads an announcement from the Space and Navy Warfare Systems Command’s Facebook page.

The torpedo was developed in an era when naval power defined a nation’s might; its design was seen as “a leap forward in military armament,” The Los Angeles Times reports. But the weapons — as well as training versions of them, with inert warheads — have remained rare.

“Only 50 Howell torpedoes were produced, and just two of them have ever been recovered. The Howell torpedo, an 11-foot-long brass torpedo, was developed between 1870 and 1889,” reports U-T San Diego. “It was driven by a 132-pound flywheel spun to 10,000 rpm before launch. It had a range of 400 yards, a speed of 25 knots and a warhead filled with 100 pounds of gun cotton.”

The Howell was named for its creator, Lieutenant Commander John A. Howell. As the Naval Undersea Museum, which currently has one of the weapons on display, explains, it was part of a new crop of “automobile” — or self-propelling — torpedoes. They were built by the Hotchkiss Ordnance Co. in Providence, R.I.

It seems to have taken a while for the Navy to identify the torpedo the dolphins located near San Diego — after all, it was decommissioned generations ago. In the end, a search on Google helped, a Navy official tells San Diego’s CBS 8 TV.

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