US Navy Scientists Train Sea Lions to Become Video Gamers

(Screenshot/Public/ @USNavy)

Kate Hirzel Contributor
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U.S. Navy scientists at a San Diego base announced Monday that they have trained sea lions to play video games, declaring one named Spike “the most avid gamer.”

Spike is one of three sea lions Navy scientists trained to play video games, but he was the only one to complete the gaming system, according to a Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific release. The video shows Spike understanding the controls and progressing through a series of games. 

Spike uses his snout to maneuver a cursor through a maze on the Enclosure Video Enrichment (EVE) system. (RELATED: Here’s A Nine-Minute Video Of The ‘Longest, Most Intense’ Alaskan Grizzly Bear Fight)

Scientists are researching if sea lions have fun playing the game and do they want to continue. Every time spike successfully completes the challenge, he is given a treat as a reward. After 750 sessions, scientists don’t have to use the positive reinforcement of food to get the sea lions to play anymore.  

“I really care about these animals and the lives they lead,” National Marine Mammal Foundation (NMMF) scientist, Kelley Winship, said in the news release. “I love all the cool stuff we can look at with this research, but at the end of the day, I want to see them happy and enjoying themselves.”

“The research possibilities with this are endless,” Winship said. “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.”

Sea lions exhibit intense focus when given challenges that aren’t impossible. They get excited when they win, but don’t become as frustrated as humans when they lose. 

“I find a lot of fulfillment working with animals trained to protect our Sailors and Marines, especially because these animals are so capable and they find their systems tasks so rewarding,” Winship continued. “And with EVE, I get to work on providing them with additional mental challenge and stimulation with a sole focus on their welfare.”