Russia deployed trained dolphins to guard Black Sea naval base, satellite images show
With its military numbers strained by the fighting in Ukraine, Russia seems to have delegated maritime defense to another mammal: dolphins.
Moscow has deployed trained dolphins at the entrance to a key Black Sea port, apparently to protect a naval base from possible Ukrainian attacks, according to a review of satellite imagery by commercial firm Maxar and the US Naval Institute ( USNI).
Two transportable dolphin enclosures were moved to the port of Sevastopol in February, around the time Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, according to analysis of satellite images by HI Sutton, a specialist underwater analyst. in the use of marine mammal enclosures and has written for the Naval Institute.
The Dolphins could be tasked with preventing Ukrainian divers from infiltrating the underwater port and sabotaging warships there, which lie just out of range of Ukrainian missiles, he said. .
In an email to NBC News, Sutton said dolphins were “the most obvious type of mammal” used to protect the Black Sea naval base. He added that these were most likely the same enclosures that Russia had deployed in Tartous in Syria in 2018, where they used dolphins to counter enemy divers, recover objects from the sea floor and carry out rescue operations. information.
A spokesperson for Maxar Technologies, which provided NBC with the satellite imagery, said it “agrees with the analytical assessments made by our USNI partners.”
Although the Sevastopol naval base is not Russia’s largest in the Black Sea, it is crucial for the army given its proximity to the southern tip of the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow annexed in 2014.
A senior Russian military commander said last week that the country’s goal in the conflict now was to take full control of southern Ukraine as well as the east, forming a land bridge to Crimea. This “battle for Donbass” in eastern Ukraine is the second phase of Russia’s war after its failures around kyiv and the north.
The sinking of the flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, the Moskva, this month was a strategic and symbolic blow to the Kremlin’s war effort. The protection of the remaining ships in the area can therefore be a priority for the Russian army.
During the Soviet era, Russia used the Sevastopol base to train dolphins to search for mines and plant explosives on ships, according to the Moscow Times. After the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine inherited the dolphins and repurposed them as therapy animals for children with special needs.
When Russia regained possession of the area after annexation, it resumed military training of dolphins. In April 2019, a sighting of a beluga whale in a harness in Norway, with a camera and a clip that read “Equipment St. Petersburg,” indicated the expansion of the program.
“It’s no surprise that Putin thinks dolphins are a weapon of war,” Andrew Lambert, professor of naval history at King’s College London, said on Thursday.
“Like so many things we see in Ukraine, it is the work of the Soviet Union that is being replenished by the current Russian government.” But he added that dolphins have the potential to be effective spies: “It’s their world, and they’re going to find you underwater very, very quickly.”
Dolphins’ deep-diving abilities, along with their sonar communication system, make them more effective at underwater detection than any major technological advancement to date.
Animal rights activists frequently protest the use of sea mammals in warfare, pointing out that they lack the ability to volunteer.
But since the Cold War, Russia and the United States have deployed marine mammals to conduct underwater research.
During the Vietnam War, the United States used bottlenose dolphins and sea lions to search for objects and patrol restricted waters. And in 2003, NBC News reported that the US military had flown trained dolphins into a key Iraqi port to search for mines.