Russia Is Using Military Dolphins to Protect Its Naval Base

This isn't the first time the marine mammals have been recruited by the Russian army.

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This photograph shows a dolphin off the coasts of Port-Leucate on March 3, 2022.
The dolphins were spotted via satellite images.
Image: RAYMOND ROIG (Getty Images)

Russia has enlisted the help of some new marine recruits in its ongoing invasion of Ukraine, deploying trained military dolphins to protect one of its naval bases in the Black Sea. The underwater defense was reportedly revealed in satellite images captured by private space technology company Maxar, and reviewed by the U.S. Naval Institute.

The satellite imagery allegedly revealed two dolphin pens at the entrance to Sevastopol harbor, home to Russia’s Black Sea naval fleet. The dolphins may have been placed there to defend against divers trying to infiltrate the naval base.

This may seem odd, but Russia actually has a history of recruiting the sly and slippery mammals in its military defense. During the Cold War, Russia used trained dolphins to protect against enemy swimmers, detect submarines and protect ships as part of the Soviet Navy’s marine mammal program. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the dolphins were transitioned to Ukraine but with Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, the unit came under Russian Navy control.

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Similarly, the U.S. Navy has also trained dolphins, whales and sea lions since the Vietnam War to search for objects underwater and patrol restricted areas in the sea.

Even more recently, satellite images suggested that Russia had deployed trained dolphins to the war in Syria in late 2018 after spotting the creatures near the naval base at Tartus.

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In April 2019, fishermen in Norway spotted a very serious beluga whale wearing a harness, and snooping around their ship, trying to pull its straps and ropes. According to The Guardian, the whale was believed to be a member of the Russian Navy that had wandered off after its mission ended, but had not forgotten its training just yet.

Some marine mammals are highly intelligent. Dolphins have shown the ability to learn complex tricks, and demonstrate problem-solving skills, and whales have similarly large brains that also display advanced abilities.