News Column

G2: Shortcuts: Warfare: Russia, could we have our combat dolphins back?

July 7, 2014

Shaun Walker



It wasn't just the miles of gorgeous coastline, the plush dacha compounds of the Soviet elite and the naval bases of the Black Sea Fleet that Russia acquired when it annexed Crimea this year; it was also Ukraine's combat dolphins, part of a secret programme that trains sea mammals to carry out military tasks.

Now, however, Ukraine is demanding the return of the dolphins. They are still being held at an aquarium near Sevastopol, but Ukrainian authorities in a town across the isthmus from Crimea say they have a facility where the cetaceans could spend the rest of the summer before a new military home is found for them.

The Ukrainian military dolphin programme was born out of a Soviet-era scheme that fell into neglect in the 1990s. The programme was resurrected in 2012 by the Ukrainian navy, and the Crimean military dolphin centre is thought to be one of just two in the world, with the other in San Diego serving the US navy.

Ukraine's military infrastructure in Crimea was destroyed by Russia during the annexation of the territory. Russian troops surrounded military bases and demanded that the Ukrainians surrender or defect, a process that passed off without major bloodshed. Some military equipment was seized, while some was dispatched to the rest of Ukraine.

The Russians, however, have big plans for their newest naval recruits. A source told Russian agency RIA Novosti back in March that with Crimea part of Russia, serious investment in dolphin preparation was now on the cards.

"Our specialists developed new devices that convert dolphins' underwater sonar detection of targets into a signal to the operator's monitor. The Ukrainian navy lacked funds for such know-how, and some projects had to be mothballed."

Shaun Walker

Captions:

Bomb disposal . . . a dolphin trained to find underwater mines



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Source: Guardian (UK)


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