The US Navy is teaching sea lions to play video games – and the sea lions are loving it. Scientists from Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Pacific and the National Marine Mammal Foundation (NMMF) work together as part of the US Navy Marine Mammal Program to care for the Navy’s sea lions and dolphins.
Of the three male sea lions training to play video games, it’s Spike who is the most proficient. Despite being the last trained, Spike was the first to complete video game training on a game system created by Navy scientists to research cognitive enrichment for marine mammals. The sea lions use their snouts to press a button and move a cursor through a maze.
Sea lions game on the EVE system
The main goal of having the sea lions play using the Enclosure Video Enrichment (EVE) system is for them to have fun. So far, the sea lions are enjoying themselves with a combined 750 gaming sessions.
“The EVE system itself is proof of how much we care about marine mammals,” Kelley Winship, NMMF scientist and principal investigator for research using the Enclosure Video Enrichment (EVE) system. “We built them something that nobody else did. We trained them on it, and now we just get to enjoy watching them love video games.”
Spike has participated in voluntary gaming sessions for three years and has shown significant improvement in weight management and checkups. However, scientists are still determining if the two are linked.
To train marine mammals on the EVE, the Navy scientists had to develop a portable, inexpensive system that could easily be disassembled and reassembled between sessions. The result was a plastic utility cart with lockable wheels and a 27-inch monitor protected by an acrylic glass sheet. A computer sits in a case on top of the cart. The system also connects to external speakers via Bluetooth. The controller is a small electrical box with four plastic arcade buttons.
An automatic feeder was set up to reward the sea lions for successfully completing a game. However, it was mainly used in early sessions as the sea lions preferred being rewarded by their trainers.
Winship also brings up the possibility of interspecies multiplayer games, “We built a game where we can compete against Spike — he can chase us around and we can move away. He hasn’t seen it yet. He’s going to be really excited.”
You can see a video of Spike in action here: https://www.dvidshub.net/video/embed/882523
Dolphins Are Gamers Too
The Navy is also training its dolphins to play games. However, they required a different EVE system that is permanently in the water. Primarily the dolphins play games after sunset due to the issue of glare from the sun on the large screen. The dolphins use their mouths to control joysticks.