July’s Wacky Patent

Readers, your Editor apologises for not providing a Wacky Patent post since April, but the wait is now over.  Thanks go out to Alex, former editor of the Yellow Sheet, for finding this gem.

People have been sailing the seas and shipping their valuables across the world for thousands of years.  Naturally, uncovering treasures lost at sea is a big business, whether its by finding trunks full of pirated gold, or just rare Lego pieces.  However, it is also desirable to recover larger, but equally valuable items from the sea, such as torpedoes fired in the ocean during testing.  If torpedoes drop into the sea near cables or in crevices on the sea floor, recovery operations become very difficult.

Luckily, the US Navy has “conducted research on several marine mammal systems which were devoted to solving or aiding recovery operations [Ed: Really, they were devoted to it?!].  It has been demonstrated in various projects that sea lions, dolphins, killer whales, and pilot whales can be trained to work in the open ocean and perform a variety of tasks” (USH1533H).  As a result of this research, the Secretary of the US Navy(!) is the assignee of USH1533H, a statutory invention registration (SIR) for a “beluga whale object recovery system“.

The beluga whale object recovery system

The SIR claims a method of “locating and attaching recovery hardware to an underwater object comprising the steps of: training a beluga whale to carry in its mouth said recovery hardware for attachment to said underwater object; training said beluga whale to use its innate acoustic location ability to detect the location of said underwater object; training said beluga whale to dive in the water and to detect, locate and attach said hardware to said underwater object; deploying said beluga whale to an area of water to be searched; commanding said beluga whale to dive, detect, locate and attach said hardware to said underwater object“.

The inventors / beluga whale trainers realised that the method relies heavily on the willingness of the animals to actually do what they’re told.  Sometimes, such as “when too much stress is exerted on the animals by too rapidly extending the boat-following distance, the animals may either swim back to their pens or dive or forage for fish“. Happily, when the animal successfully grabs and object and returns it a boat, it “receives a reward of fish“.

USH1533 was filed nearly thirty years ago, and one hopes that since then the Navy has found better, perhaps less fickle ways of recovering their torpedoes.  Nevertheless, we thank the whales for helping to keep our oceans debris-free!

Parminder (Yellow Sheet Editor)


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