There have been many interesting political and social ramifications to the Soviet Union’s — I mean, Russia’s — attempted annexation of Crimea, but let’s talk about what everyone is really concerned with: Who will get custody of the Ukraine’s dolphin army? (For the record, this is not an April Fool’s joke.)
If you’ve been watching this slow (and somewhat protested) annexation occur, you’ll know Russia has been slowly obtaining quite a bit of Ukraine’s military along with the land and people. As of last week, Russia had also “acquired” 51 vessels formerly owned by the Ukrainian navy, including their one and only submarine.
But, like a divorcing couple deciding custody, Russia has also taken Ukraine’s most interesting military asset in the form of its trained dolphin, er, fleet.
Why does the Ukraine have a dolphin army?
Ukraine inherited the Marine Mammal Program after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, but it was actually started in the 1960s during the escalation of the Arm’s Race of the Cold War. (Ukraine received custody because the program and dolphin army is based in Crimea.) The competition for the greatest underwater mammalian navy in the world was actually referred to as the “dolphin arms race.”
Though there isn’t a lot of confirmed information about dolphins, it’s believed that originally the Soviet dolphins were trained to detect sea mines. There are also reports that they were trained to act as guard dolphins and attack divers, and that they were used to carry mines to ships and act as a sort of suicide bomber.
In all reality, Russia taking back the program—which appears to just come with the land—isn’t really the most dramatic thing Ukraine is giving up. To be honest, the program has been somewhat neglected since the transfer. After receiving the dolphins from the former Soviet Union, Ukraine actually used the dolphins as therapy animals. The military program was only restarted in 2012 and the animals were being trained to use buoys to mark lost weapons and underwater obstacles. There were rumors of plans to train the dolphins to attack enemy combat swimmers using special knives or pistols attached to their heads, but this was never acknowledged by anyone official. In fact, there was an entire hoax around the idea that killer dolphins with those exact skills and weapons had escaped into the Black Sea. A document used to report the story was later discovered to be fake with a forged signature.
Why it’s not as nefarious as it sounds
What makes the exchange more an embarrassing loss versus an actual blow to the military might of the country is Ukraine had planned to disband the training program within the next few months. The program—citing lack of funding—has actually been slowly ridding itself of dolphins for the past few years to aquariums and marine parks. In 2000, the Ukraine sold four of the dolphins to Iran because there was no money for food.
Do we have a dolphin Army?
The United States has also maintained its Flipper Fleet since the Cold War and even tried training beluga whales, sea lions and sharks. During the Vietnam War, the Navy used five dolphins acting as bomb detectors to alert sailors to enemies trying to plant underwater bombs. In the 1980s, six dolphins acted as escorts for US ships and Kuwaiti oil tankers in Bahrain. Now our dolphin army of several dozen is kept off the coast of San Diego and are being used as mine detectors. Once the animal finds a mine, a human diver is sent to detonate it.
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense