Navy sea lions enjoy unwinding with a good video game
Imagine getting schooled in a video game by a sea lionBy Shawn Knight
Fist bump: As part of their continued research into cognitive enrichment for marine mammals, US Navy scientists developed a video game system designed specifically for sea lions and dolphins. Of the three male sea lions that have learned to play so far, Spike was the first to successfully finish the training program.
Spike wasn't exactly a savant, but that is no fault of his own. The Navy's sea lions have been trained to ignore outside stimuli and focus exclusively on their trainers or the mission at hand. This meant they first had to be taught that moving objects on a screen were relevant, and they did this by watching researchers play games.
As the process advanced, the mammals were allowed to interact with game controllers using their snouts. They watched as trainers pressed the correct buttons and eventually learned to do so themselves. A basic cursor tracking game was used to help the sea lions get the swing of things. As their skills progressed, so too did the level of difficulty in the game.
Spike was eventually able to clear more complex levels in an average of six seconds and with fewer than seven button presses. Even more impressive is the fact that some gaming sessions were conducted without positive reinforcement or food rewards.
To date, Spike and his two pals have gone through more than 450 gaming sessions over a three year period and everything indicates they are having a blast.
Sea lions and dolphins are used by the Navy for reconnaissance and recovery missions because they can perform better than humans. According to the Navy, more than 120 sea lions and dolphins are under the supervision of the Marine Mammal Program. They are said to live happier, healthier, and longer lives than their wild counterparts thanks in part to a team of around 300 people that care for them.