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 U-T San Diego.
The military said the machines can do some of the same mine-hunting duties as the dolphins. And they can be manufactured quickly, in contrast to the seven years it takes to train a dolphin.
But the dolphins will not be relieved of all duties. 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 has been in operation since the late 1950s and once included killer whales and sharks. Based in San Diego, it currently uses 80 bottle-nosed dolphins and 40 California sea lions.
In recent years, dolphins have been deployed to Iraq and Bahrain to patrol for enemy divers and mark the locations of mines. 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.