"It was apparent in the first 15 minutes that this was something that was significant and really old," Christian Harris, operations supervisor for the SSC Pacific Biosciences Division, said in a statement. "Realizing that we were the first people to touch it or be around it in over 125 years was really exciting."
The Howell torpedo had a 132-lb (60 kilogram) flywheel that would be spun prior to launch. With a warhead filled with 100 pounds (45 kg) of gun cotton, the weapon had a range of 400 yards and could reach speeds of 25 knots, military officials said.
"It was the first torpedo that could be released into the ocean and follow a track," Harris said. "Considering that it was made before electricity was provided to U.S. households, it was pretty sophisticated for its time."
The torpedo is being kept in a tank of water to prevent erosion on its surface. The historical weapon will eventually be shipped to the Naval History and Heritage Command at the Washington Navy Yard.
Navy officials said last year that the U.S. military may begin retiring its dolphins in 2017 in favor of cheaper mine-hunting robots.
Dolphins' amazing sonar ability can be a blessing and a curse for marine mammal-military relations; the animals are acutely vulnerable to high-powered naval sonar used during military tests, and past naval exercises have been linked to dolphin strandings.
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