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Tuffy the dolphin

Who Delivers Tools and Mails to SEALAB II?

Dolphins are extremely intelligent. They are well-known for their ability to imitate and learn quickly. But did you know that the United States Navy employed a dolphin to bring tools to an underwater laboratory?

Tuffy, a dolphin, was Employed by the United States Navy and was assigned to deliver tools and mail to scientists living in an experimental underwater laboratory.

Tuffy the Dolphin

Tuffy was one of the first dolphins used by the Navy. The scrappy, spirited animal overcame a difficult childhood that left him scarred by a shark bite.

Tuffy’s intelligence and strong-willed behavior both impressed and irritated his trainers. His accomplishments were just as memorable as his personality. In the 1960s, he became the program’s star pupil, demonstrating that dolphins could learn complex tasks.

Tuffy appeared in the documentary called The Dolphins Who Joined the Navy in 1964, and the following year, he took part in the Sealab II project, which involved divers living underwater. Tuffy delivered messages and tools to the underwater habitat and practiced rescuing stranded or injured divers.

Tuffy taught his trainers a lot about dolphin behavior and training. (Source: Naval Undersea Museum)


In 1965, SEALAB II was launched. It was near twice the size of SEALAB I, with heating coils in the deck to combat the constant helium-induced chill and air conditioning to combat the oppressive humidity. The amenities included hot showers, a built-in toilet, laboratory equipment, eleven viewing ports, two exits, and refrigeration. It was placed at a depth of 205 feet in the La Jolla Canyon off the coast of Scripps Institution of Oceanography/UCSD in La Jolla, California. On August 28, 1965, the first of three teams of divers arrived at the Tilton Hilton or the Tiltin’ Hilton, due to the slope of the landing site. 

The support ship Berkone hovered above the surface, close to the Scripps pier. Helium diffused through glass, destroying watches and electronic devices. The helium atmosphere quickly conducted heat away from the divers’ bodies, so temperatures were raised rapidly to 30 °C or 86 °F to ward off chill.

Each team stayed in the habitat for 15 days, but aquanaut/former astronaut Scott Carpenter stayed for 30 days. In addition to physiological testing, the 28 divers tried out new tools, salvage methods, and an electrically heated drysuit. 

They were assisted by Tuffy, a bottlenose dolphin from the United States Navy Marine Mammal Program. 

With varying degrees of success, aquanauts and Navy trainers attempted to teach Tuffy to ferry supplies from the surface to SEALAB or from one diver to another and come to the aid of an aquanaut in distress. When the SEALAB II mission concluded on October 10, 1965, there were plans for Tuffy to participate in SEALAB III.

A congratulatory phone call was arranged for Carpenter and President Lyndon B. Johnson as a sidenote to SEALAB II. Carpenter was calling from a decompression chamber where helium gas replaced nitrogen, so he sounded unintelligible to operators. For years the call tape was circulated among Navy divers before it aired on National Public Radio in 1999. (Source: Wiki Wand)

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