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Navy mine-hunting dolphins to be replaced by robots

The dolphins are part of the Navy’s $28 million marine mammal program, which employs dolphins and sea lions to keep ports free of dangers.
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Bottlenose dolphins swim ahead of the bow of a boat off the southern California coast near Dana Point, California. (David McNew/AFP/Getty Images)

Some 24 dolphins that the US Navy uses to hunt mines will be replaced by mine-hunting robots within five years, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

The dolphins are part of the Navy’s $28 million marine mammal program, which trains and employs 80 bottle-nosed dolphins and 40 California sea lions to detect and clear mines and other dangers from ports, the Union-Tribune reported.

(The animals are paid in sardines, herring, smelt and squid, according to the Union-Tribune.)

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Locating sea mines is an ideal job for dolphins, because they have biological sonar, called echolocation, and because sea mines are not easily set off by wave action or marine animals bumping into them, according to the Navy.

Now, however, the Navy has designed a 12-foot torpedo-shaped mine-hunting robot that can be built more quickly than training a dolphin for the task, which takes seven years, the Union-Tribune reported.

The dolphins won’t be forced into retirement, Navy officials told the Union-Tribune. They’ll be reassigned to other tasks that mammals can perform better than robots, such as port security and object retrieval.

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