Russia has a history of training dolphins for military purposes, using the aquatic mammal to retrieve objects or deter enemy divers.

The Guardian reported on April 28 that experts analyzing satellite images have discovered at least two cages of trained dolphins of the Russian Navy deployed at the entrance to the Black Sea coast port of Sevastopol in Crimea in February 2022, when Russia launched its operation in Ukraine. Russia has a history of training dolphins for military purposes, using the aquatic mammal to retrieve objects or deter enemy divers.

The Sevastopol naval base is crucial for the Russian military, as it sits in the southern tip of Crimea which Moscow seized in 2014. According to the US Naval Institute’s analysis, many of the Russian ships anchored there, while out of range from missiles, are potentially vulnerable to undersea attacks.

During the cold war, both the US and the Soviet Union developed the use of dolphins whose echolocation capabilities can allow them to detect underwater objects such as mines. The US has spent at least $28m maintaining its own troops of dolphins and sea lions – which are also trainable – to potentially help with conflicts.

Russian dolphin army
Russian dolphin army

Ukraine had also trained dolphins at an aquarium near Sevastopol, in a program born out of a Soviet-era scheme that fell into neglect in the 1990s. The Sevastopol program was resurrected in 2012 by the Ukrainian navy, but the mammals fell into Russian hands after the 2014 invasion of Crimea.

Dolphins are not the only ocean creatures that Russian military may have trained. A beluga whale spotted off the coast of Norway in 2019 was believed to be trained by the Russian navy. Fishermen reported a beluga whale wearing strange harnesses, which may have held cameras, harassing their boats, pulling on straps and ropes from the side of boats.

Satellite images from 2018 show that Russia also uses dolphins at the naval base in Tartus, Syria. In addition to Russia, international military experts confirmed that the US, Israel and North Korea are also operating special training programs with dolphins for military purposes.

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