Russia Now Commands A Dolphin Army

Perhaps you've heard that Ukraine had a small battalion of dolphin soldiers, trained to sniff out mines and patrol the border. Since the dolphins were housed at an aquarium in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, they now answer to the Russian Navy.

The Russian news agency RIA Novosti is reporting that the dolphin training program, which was originally founded in the 1960s, was actually meant to be disbanded next month. But the Russians have decided to infuse new funds into the program and keep it going.

Above: United States Navy marine mammal handler Electronic Technician 2nd Class Eric Kenas shows how a trained dolphin reacts to different hand gestures, during Lead Shield III/Roguex V, an exercise to test port facility anti-terrorism readiness. (Source)

One source told the news agency that the dolphins are currently outfitted with old, outdated equipment, but that the facility's engineers are working on new instruments to "boost the operational efficiency of the dolphins underwater." The Ukrainian Army lacked the technical expertise to "convert the detection of objects by the dolphins' underwater sonar to a signal on an operator's monitor," but the Russian Army seems to have the know-how.

You may remember these dolphins from the aptly-named Department of "What Could Possibly Go Wrong?" They were meant to be trained to attack human divers. In 2012, RIA Novosti reported that "the killer-dolphins will be trained to attack enemy combat swimmers using special knives or pistols fixed to their heads."

The dolphin attack program was scrapped due to lack of funds. No word on whether the Russian Navy will invest in that as well, but RIA Novosti's source "expressed hope the Russian navy would support the combat program, which also trains sea lions."

The Ukrainian dolphins actually have a long history. After the break-up of the USSR, the dolphins were used by the government ostensibly for good rather than for evil, such as in animal therapy programs, but then in 2011 the cetaceans were re-militarized. Make no mistake: there is no demonstrable benefit from using dolphins for therapeutic purposes, and itself represents a welfare challenge for the marine mammals. In the awkward calculus of lesser-of-two-evils, the therapy program is probably better than the combat program, but the truth is neither is optimal for the dolphins.

There's one other militarized dolphin troop, right here at home. In San Diego, the US Navy's Marine Mammal Program, which is accredited by the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums, is also focused on dolphins and sea lions. They don't train the animals to attack, instead relying on them primarily for object detection and retrieval.

[RIA Novosti via The Dodo]