Fight dolphins that plant bombs, search for mines and guard ships

They are considered to be one of the most intelligent mammals, but it is still difficult to imagine dolphins in military service. But do not think that dolphins disarm the enemy with their personal charm. Mother Nature herself endowed these highly intelligent creatures. Trained animals have served the military since the 1950s. The war in Ukraine is not the first front on which dolphins are fighting.

  • The most developed skill of dolphins is echolocation, ie the use of ultrasound to navigate and track prey.
  • Their brains are designed to detect tiny objects a few centimeters away even a few tens of meters away from them
  • They are more effective than modern technologies because their senses are less unreliable
  • The first dolphin training center was established in the 1950s in San Diego, the second in Sebastopol. After the collapse of the USSR, the training base was taken over by the Ukrainians. Ukraine lost it with the annexation of Crimea
  • US intelligence has determined that the Russians used combat dolphins during the war in Ukraine
  • More articles can be found on the Onet homepage

Animals have been used on battlefields for a long time. Through them messages were sent, spied on, explosives transferred or fields cleared. While we can easily imagine dogs or horses at the front, the presence of a dolphin in the military ranks is surprising. The fighting dolphins are stationed in Sevastopol and must protect the Russians against the Ukrainian attack. How? Who trained them for this? How else could they be useful in the military?

Battle Dolphins – Military, endowed by nature

At the very beginning, the question arises whether in times of such advanced technologies the military should still use animals for its purposes? It turns out that the extremely developed intelligence and senses of dolphins, cetaceans and sea lions are even less unreliable than modern equipment under certain conditions. In waters with many mechanical objects, the operation of devices with depth sounders can be disrupted. Dolphins and whales do not have these technical problems.

Sergeant Andrew Garret and K-Dog, bottlenose dolphin on a mission in the Persian Gulf

Photo: US Navy/Handout/Getty Images

Fight against dolphins at the front

The Americans were the first to use the extraordinary capabilities of dolphins for military purposes as early as the 1950s. At that time, special training centers were established, where bottlenose dolphins and sea lions were trained, and their first combat tasks included detecting small objects on the bottom. of water bodies, especially in waters with limited visibility. “During the tests, the beluchs were able to find training torpedoes at a depth of more than 400 m,” Lieutenant Commander Maksymilian Dura said in a statement to the Polska Zbrojna portal.

The U.S. military first used trained dolphins and sea lions in 1970-1971 at Vietnam’s Ranh Bay, where the Americans stockpiled weapons. There, they effectively dealt with divers and placed explosives on them, preventing the saboteurs from getting close to American ships. Thanks to them, the Americans completely freed themselves from underwater attacks, for which dolphins were called “watchdogs”.

Another appointment came in 1987, this time to the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq war. Off the coast of Bahrain, six dolphins were tasked with escorting warships and clearing waterways, as well as guarding oil drums stored on the coast and helping to protect moving tankers. The Dolphin Skippy, who was on the mission, fell ill with a bacterial infection and died.

Hefi, a bottlenose dolphin on a mission in the Persian Gulf in 2003.

Hefi, a bottlenose dolphin on a mission in the Persian Gulf in 2003.

Photo: US Navy/Handout/Getty Images

In 1996, during the Republican National Convention in San Diego, dolphins were deployed to patrol the coast. It was one of the security measures after the Atlanta Olympics bombings a month earlier.

In 2003, during the invasion of Iraq, dolphins returned to the Persian Gulf with the US military. Their job was to locate and remove mines left over from the previous conflict.

The dolphin training center in San Diego, US, was to this day the first officially known to train animals under the direction of the US Navy. The second such center, which belonged to the Soviet Union during the Cold War, is located in the Sevastopol Oceanarium. After the collapse of the USSR, it belonged to the Ukrainian army, but after the annexation of Crimea, it was taken over by the Federation (in 2018, the Russians used military dolphins to protect the base in the Syrian city of Tartus). North Korea may also have naval forces, according to unofficial sources.

Why these animals?

In 2019, the Pentagon had about 70 bottlenose dolphins and about 30 California sea lions in the ranks of the US Navy. In peacetime, their job mainly consists of searching for different types of objects on the ocean floor and patrolling the coast. Why these animals? Both dolphins and sea lions have excellent low-light vision and directional hearing underwater, allowing them to detect and track underwater targets even in dark or murky waters. They can also dive hundreds of meters without the risk of decompression sickness. For now, technology is no match for them.

Each unit trained under the American Navy Marine Mammal Program had its own specializations. The animals were trained to protect ships and ports, detect mines, torpedoes and objects with acoustic transmitters, and special agents were even able to mount explosives on such objects. The sea lions are said to have learned to cuff divers’ legs. Underwater soldiers were also able to recover lost military equipment.

The Americans denied that the purpose of the dolphins was not only to deter the enemy, but also to eliminate them. The argument was that animals trained to kill could do more damage because animals wouldn’t be able to recognize who the enemy was and who wasn’t.

The issue of deadly dolphins was raised seriously in the US in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf of Mexico. It was then rumored that armed dolphins were trained to kill terrorists and track down spies who had escaped from their basin. Writing about this, The Guardian quoted experts as saying 36 mammals could carry “poisonous arrows” to put the enemy to sleep and deliver them for interrogation. Experts warned divers and surfers of the risk of being attacked by some of the world’s smartest animals. The Navy then declined to confirm information about the disappearance of its dolphins.

Animal rights activists constantly raise the subject of inhumane use of animals, captivity and, above all, covert training methods. These allegations were made repeatedly by the US Navy, to ensure that the animals they trained received the highest standard of care. However, these were mainly declarations of honour. Due to the aforementioned pressure from animal organizations, information about training marine mammals began to be hidden from the public over time.

In 2012, the US Navy announced that it would be withdrawing its marine mammal training program and replacing animals with robots. More than $90 million was allocated for research and the robots are expected to be operational in 2017. So far that hasn’t happened.

Ukrainian military dolphins in Russian service

The Russians trained marine mammals in Sevastopol during the Cold War. After the collapse of the USSR, the training base in Crimea was taken over by Ukrainians, who trained animals until the 2000s. The Sevastopol Aquarium resumed training in 2012 and trained 10 combat dolphins, whose main task was to detect mines and other types of weapons , in which they had to help special transmitters placed on the heads. After locating the mines using the buoys, the animals marked their location. In addition, they were also trained to detect divers approaching ships to place explosives.

After Russia occupied Crimea in 2014, the animals were kidnapped by the Ukrainian military, and despite Ukraine’s demands to return, the Russians never did. After two years, they announced their intention to purchase five more dolphins and develop a training program. According to some sources, the Russian military has also trained other marine animals, including whales, for military purposes. In 2020, a banging with a transmitter was confirmed off the coast of Norway, suggesting that it may have been a military-trained beluga that managed to get out of a military base near Murmansk.

Can the battle dolphin be controlled?

How are marine mammals trained for military service? It is impossible to find information about this. However, it is difficult to imagine that wild animals would naturally submit to human commands without the need to use coercive measures.

In amusement parks that make money by enslaving and exploiting animals, dolphins and sea lions are kept in small pools, and if they are mentally broken, they are more easily subjected to trainers. In the military, however, it is different. Military-trained animals participate in open water actions, still obediently performing complex tasks before returning to their base.

One theory is that dolphin training is similar to police and hunting dogs — when they detect an underwater mine or a diver, they report to their handlers who give them rewards like fish. Such an explanation only raises more questions.

Russians use Ukrainian fighting dolphins against Ukraine

US intelligence has determined, based on satellite images, that the Russians are using bottlenose dolphins to protect the military base in Sevastopol. Special pens betray this. According to intelligence, they were brought to Sevastopol in February of this year, that is, at the very beginning of the Russian attack on Ukraine.

It is not known whether these are the same individuals who were trained by Ukrainians until 2014, but it is not difficult to assess what they were hired for. They are undoubtedly intended to protect the Russian base in Sevastopol from Ukrainian divers, weapons and explosives that could get inside.

Sources:, NIWC Pacific

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