The US Navy is using video games to train sea lions and dolphins

Sea Lion Playing Video Games with a Screen in ViewUS Navy

The US Navy has revealed plans on how they’re teaching both sea lions and dolphins to play various video games as a form of cognitive enrichment.

The US Navy has released arguably one of the strangest news headlines in media this week. The press release titled, “The Navy’s Sea Lions Love Video Games” was released a few days prior and contains details about the US Navy’s training of aquatic animals such as sea lions and dolphins in the ancient art of… video games.

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We’re introduced to Spike the Sea Lion, well Spike is more of their gamer tag according to the press release. Spike was the first to complete training on a game system that the Navy scientists created as part of their research to enhance cognitive enrichment for the animals.

Sea Lions like Spike use their snout in order to press a button and maneuver a cursor through a maze. Once they cross the finish line they’re rewarded with cheers and a herring from their trainers.

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Sea Lion barking happilyUS Navy
Sea Lions would receive positive reinforcement from their trainers when winning the games.

US Navy trains sea lions and dolphins to play video games

Spike and his fellow gamer friends have been partaking in three years of voluntary sessions, sometimes even without the positive reinforcement of food. Throughout this time, Spike has shown an improvement in his weight maintenance as showed better performance in his health checks. However, the research doesn’t definitively link his gaming to this as of just yet.

It seems that Spike and other sea lions have been enjoying the time spent playing, with the number of sessions increasing gradually as more sea lions in the program began learning how to play.

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Eventually, Spike and his friends were able to switch directions of the cursor and were able to complete levels with an average clip of about six seconds. You can view a clip of a sea lion playing a game here.

Sea Lion Playing Video GamesUS Navy
Spike is able to move the cursor in different directions using the buttons in front of him.

Unlike sea lions, dolphins needed a special setup as they never leave the water. In order to do so, they needed a large screen that was visible from the water, and could only play after sunset as the light obscured the visibility of the projector. According to the press release, the bottlenose dolphins are able of controlling joysticks with their mouths in order to game the night away.

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Both animals showed similar characteristics that humans do whilst playing video games. They would exhibit intense amounts of focus when facing more difficult tasks, they would show delight and enjoyment when they won. Some days they’d be a little less on the ball and some days they’d be quick to pick it up. However, unlike us gamers, they don’t exhibit the levels of frustration humans do.

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