Turtles Shell Helmets Courtesy of Sinking Ships

USS Mullinnix as it's getting sunk as part of naval tests in August 1992.  Photo courtesy of USSMullinnix.org.

USS Mullinnix as it's getting sunk as part of naval tests in August 1992. Photo by USSMullinnix.org.

The path to science discovery and application does not always follow a straight line.  This is one such example.

For years the U.S. Navy has conducted tests of the explosive variety in an effort to make ships stronger and bombs more potent.  I can only assume they’re succeeding in doing a very good job at both.

But since these tests tend to take place over open water, there’s collateral damage of the marine variety.  In particular, dolphins and turtles.

Currently, the U.S. Navy takes measures to ensure that high-valued creatures such as these are a safe distance away from test sites before the bombs go off.  But the nagging question has always been – how far is far enough?

In order to answer that question, the U.S. Navy joined forces with scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.  Together they collected carcasses of turtles and dolphins which died of natural causes, embedded pressure sensors within them, and subjected them to underwater explosions from varying distances.

They found that while pressures of 300 pounds per square inch turned the insides of dolphins to mush, the same could not be said of turtles which recorded some but not significant internal damage.

They suspect the shell’s composition, shape, or some combination thereof helps protects turtles from these otherwise insane pressures.  Maybe it’s how the shell is basically an extension of the turtle’s ribcage.  To answer that question, further research is needed.  And if they find an answer, the hope would be to better improve the effectiveness of body armor and helmets.

You know, just in case you happen to be too close to an exploding ship.

Source: Woods Whole Oceanographic Institution

10 comments on this post.

  1. j:

    Aren’t you glad they don’t use a similar method for car collision testing?

  2. j:

    Here’s a ripe market for someone to invent dolphin and turtle crash-test/explosion-test dummies…

  3. Ross:

    Really enjoy the layout of your science related blog. Excellent photo.Make one wonder doesn’t it…the way the world has little money to feed the starving 60% of the population…yet can build such ships for zillions of dollars…then blow them up with no social conscience. Sure is weird. Thanks for the interesting article.

  4. Dave Oei:

    Great, thanks, glad you’re enjoying what we’re writing!

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