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Russia's Newly Acquired Battle Dolphins Have a Rich History

They use their natural sonar to help detect enemy vessels, they deliver equipment to deep-sea divers, and they can detect underwater mines.

by Grant Pardee
Apr 5 2014, 3:05pm

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.

As a brand, dolphins are typically known for having great sex, being really smart, and looking good on those binders all the middle school babes had. Dolphins are cool, but they’re lovers, man, not fighters. Being seen as a brand associated with toughness was left to other amphibious creatures like turtles, toads, and sharks.

Well, brand watchers, its time to update your mental associations because sometimes dolphins have harpoons on their backs and are trained to kill human beings for the benefit of Mother Russia, and that’s something we should talk about.

Iraqi war veterans meet a dolphin. Photo via Flickr user James Brooks

You’re aware that Russia has formally annexed the Crimean peninsula from neighboring Ukraine and taken their naval ships from them. As it turns out, included in that package are dolphins trained for combat.

Battle dolphins are a Cold War relic, established in the 1960s by the Soviet Union and the United States, who were somehow able to take a break from all that nuclear stockpiling they were doing to also get into a dick-measuring contest about who could have its dolphins the most trained in espionage. Ahh, the 60s.

Russia has taken control of Ukraine’s military attack dolphins. Read more here.

What does it take to be a battle dolphin, you may be wondering—particularly if you’re a disenfranchised dolphin yourself looking for a greater purpose in life? Well, battle dolphins are capable of many great military purposes: they use their natural sonar to help detect enemy vessels, they deliver equipment to deep-sea divers, and they can detect underwater mines.

The US used dolphins in Vietnam to guard military boats and possibly kill enemy frogmen, which the Navy obviously denies. Dolphins were also used in Iraq to help guide oil freighters through treacherous waters.

Based in San Diego and still in effect today, the United States Navy Marine Mammal Program, with about 70 battle dolphins in tow, is the only other battle dolphin program in the world besides the one that Russia just acquired in Crimea.

The Japanese Can't Stop Eating Endangered Sea Mammals. Read more here.

When the Cold War ended, the battle dolphins employed by the Soviets fell into Ukraine’s possession, since Crimea was part of their territory. But without as many geopolitical foes to be paranoid about, the dolphins didn’t have much battling to do.

Ukraine sold off several of its dolphins to Iran more than 10 years ago, along with a handful of sea lions and walruses, because it couldn't afford to feed the animals, according to the BBC.

Dolphins swim next to a U.S. military support ship. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

So, the Ukrainian battle dolphins ended up being repurposed for civilian programs, namely to provide therapy for autistic and emotionally disturbed children. That’s right: Battle dolphins also have a heart of gold. How they didn’t have some kind of animated series and toy line in the 90s is beyond me.

Anyway, Russia put a stop to all that “helping kids” nonsense and now the dolphins will be utilized for battle purposes once again.

“The Ukrainian Navy lacked the funds for such know-how, and some projects had to be shuttered,” a source at the Crimean dolphin base told RIA Novosti, a state-operated Russian media source. "Our experts have developed new devices, which convert the detection of objects by the dolphins' underwater sonar to a signal on an operator's monitor.”

A U.S. Navy marine commands this trained dolphin with hand signals. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Of course, the Ukrainians don’t see it that way. Vladislav Seleznyov, a spokesman for the Ukrainian military, told the Washington Post that while the dolphins have been trained for combat, they don’t necessarily need to be used for it. "In my opinion, dolphins are not a military asset," he said.

Animals have been used in other strange ways during the 20th century. For instance, during World War II, the Soviets famously made it a regular practice to strap bombs to dogs and send them under German tanks.

A U.S. Navy mate tends to a dolphin while aboard an aircraft. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Bats were used as remote bombs by the United States to attack Japan, also during World War II. The idea was pitched by Eleanor Roosevelt’s dentist, who realized you could cause a lot of damage if you strapped napalm devices to bats and sent them across Japan’s mostly wooden homes. Turned out he was right. He later said this technique could have been expanded to end the war in Japan rather than using nuclear weapons. He was probably right about that too, but at a certain point everyone was tired of listening to the guy who just wanted to strap a bunch of bombs to bats.

Dolphins with harpoons, dogs with bombs, bats with napalm: In a way, these battle animals were essentially paving the way for modern drone warfare. Drones are a brand no one wants to embrace right now, but I see an opportunity to improve the branding of both dolphins and drones simultaneously by linking the two. After all, can you really hate drones’ callous elimination of human life if dolphins basically invented it? Of course not. Try to hate a dolphin. It’s impossible. And now you support drones.

Hit me up, Obama.

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