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Russia Has Taken Ukraine's Fleet of Dolphins Russia Has Taken Ukraine's Fleet of Dolphins

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Defense

Russia Has Taken Ukraine's Fleet of Dolphins

The Ukrainian navy wanted to train the dolphins to attack with weapons attached to their heads.

Bottlenose dolphins at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, Calif.(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

photo of Emma Roller
March 26, 2014

First they came for the dolphins. And I did not speak out, because I was not a dolphin.

Russia has taken a fleet of military dolphins trained by the Ukrainian navy, a Russian news agency reports. The Soviet Union's combat dolphin program has been around since the 1960s, and was handed over to Ukraine after the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. The Ukrainian navy had been planning to disband the program next month, but with Russia's annexation of Crimea, the dolphins have a new commander to report to—Vladimir Putin.

Known for their intelligence and agility, dolphins are ideal compatriots. And Russia isn't the only country that has harnessed the talents of its bottle-nosed comrades. The U.S. Navy's Marine Mammal Program in San Diego trains dolphins and sea lions to patrol the water, detect mines, and recover equipment. The U.S. even deployed dolphins as underwater agents during the Iraq War to local mines in the Persian Gulf.

 

In the past, Ukraine has conscripted its combat dolphins for extreme missions:

In 2012, Ukrainian officials said that they intended to train the dolphins to attack enemy swimmers with knives or pistols fixed to their heads, but due to budget shortfalls the program had been set to be disbanded this April. It is unclear if ... Russia plans to continue this plan which would put dolphins on the front line in combat situations.

Yes, you read that correctly. The Ukrainian government wanted to affix knives and pistols to dolphins' heads. An employee of Russia's oceanarium said its engineers will now train the dolphins to recover mines from the ocean floor and to combat scuba divers.

Russia has deployed military dolphins before, to attack underwater enemy combatants with harpoons strapped to their backs, or even to execute suicide missions by carrying mines to an enemy ship. But in 2000, Russia sold its "kamikaze dolphins" to Iran, along with walruses, sea lions, seals, and a beluga whale.

And Russia hasn't just enlisted sea-dwellers in its armed forces. During World War II, the Russian army used sled dogs for transportation. And other surprising animals—carrier pigeons, elephants, and even glow worms—have also served in the line of duty around the world. But in naval operations, dolphins are man's best friend.

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