Ukrainian dolphin soldiers would rather die than live under Russian occupation

When Russia annexed Crimea, the dolphins went on a hunger strike, Ukraine says.

Ukraine’s dolphin army is so loyal, it went on a hunger strike when it was captured by Russian forces.

At least that’s what Ukraine says.

Let’s back up for a moment: Ukraine had a secret program that trains sea mammals to carry out military tasks, like locating torpedoes, and to act as therapy pets. It’s a lot like Sea World, but way less fun for enemies of the state.

Ukrainian Navy

This dolphin army was held at the USSR-founded Research Center of the Ukrainian Army State Oceanarium until 2014, when the Russian annexation of Crimea led to the dolphins’ capture.


Ukraine demanded their return, but Russia refused to turn the dolphin army over. Rumors circulated that the Russians wanted to keep the dolphins and retrain them as soldiers (under Ukraine’s leadership, the dolphins were not trained to kill). A source even told the Russian agency RIA Novosti that engineers were “developing new aquarium technologies for new programs to more efficiently use dolphins underwater,” the Guardian reported.

Ukrainian Navy

But in the four years since their capture, most of the dolphins have died. The Ukrainian government’s representative in Crimea, Boris Babin, said on Monday that these were no ordinary deaths: The dolphin army refused to work for Russian soldiers and went on a hunger strike.

“The dolphins, trained by the naval forces in Sevastopol, would communicate with their trainers through special whistles,” Babin told the Ukrainian Obozrevatel newspaper. “The Russians obtained these whistles and the rest of the special equipment belonging to the military unit, but the trained animals refused not only to interact with the Russian trainers, but refused food, and subsequently died.”

Babin said the dolphins were more loyal and patriotic than many Ukrainian soldiers.

“The trained animals refused not only to interact with the new Russian coaches, but refused food and died some time later,” Babin said. “It’s very unfortunate that many Ukrainian soldiers, who were deployed to Crimea in 2014, took their oath and loyalty much less seriously than these dolphins.”

It isn’t clear what actually happened to the dolphin army. It’s true that dolphins are loyal animals: They can remember the whistles of their old tank-mates after being separated for more than 20 years, and they have been known to mourn when their friends die. But some observers, including Ukrainian politician Vladimir Oleinik, claim that the dolphins weren’t treated particularly well in either country and died as a result of poor health.