Russia Has Taken Ukraine’s Fleet of Dolphins

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

Bella, a Bottlenose Dolphin, swims in a pool with her new calf named Mirabella at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom on January 17, 2014 in Vallejo, California.
National Journal
Emma Roller
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Emma Roller
March 26, 2014, 8:37 a.m.

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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