Passport

Meet Russia’s Newest Recruits: Ukraine’s Combat Dolphins

The Ukrainian military is promising to one day reclaim its former bases in Crimea, but one unit has been lost forever: Ukraine’s combat dolphins, who are now swimming for Russia. The dolphins, stationed in a Ukrainian navy oceanarium in Sevastopol, will now attack enemy scuba divers, attach buoys to sea-floor mines, and patrol open waters ...

By , a reporter based in New York.
U.S. Navy/Getty Images
U.S. Navy/Getty Images

The Ukrainian military is promising to one day reclaim its former bases in Crimea, but one unit has been lost forever: Ukraine's combat dolphins, who are now swimming for Russia.

The dolphins, stationed in a Ukrainian navy oceanarium in Sevastopol, will now attack enemy scuba divers, attach buoys to sea-floor mines, and patrol open waters at the behest of Moscow, according to Russian news service RIA Novosti. The program had been set to shut down, but Russia's invasion of Ukraine has apparently given Sevastopol's combat dolphins another crack at navy life. "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," an oceanarium employee told the news service in an overt attempt to curry favor with his new bosses. "But the Ukrainian navy lacked the funds for such know-how, and some projects had to be shuttered."

Ukraine's dolphin program dates back to the 1960s, right around the time the United States launched a similar effort to enlist them in the fight against the Soviet Union. Though less is known about their Ukrainian counterparts, America's dolphins guarded military boats against enemy scuba divers in Vietnam, though the Navy denied rumors at the time that the dolphins had also been trained to kill Viet Cong divers. In the late 1980s, the United States used dolphins to help protect its ships in the Persian Gulf, where an animal named Skippy died of bacterial infection while serving his country.

The Ukrainian military is promising to one day reclaim its former bases in Crimea, but one unit has been lost forever: Ukraine’s combat dolphins, who are now swimming for Russia.

The dolphins, stationed in a Ukrainian navy oceanarium in Sevastopol, will now attack enemy scuba divers, attach buoys to sea-floor mines, and patrol open waters at the behest of Moscow, according to Russian news service RIA Novosti. The program had been set to shut down, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has apparently given Sevastopol’s combat dolphins another crack at navy life. "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," an oceanarium employee told the news service in an overt attempt to curry favor with his new bosses. "But the Ukrainian navy lacked the funds for such know-how, and some projects had to be shuttered."

Ukraine’s dolphin program dates back to the 1960s, right around the time the United States launched a similar effort to enlist them in the fight against the Soviet Union. Though less is known about their Ukrainian counterparts, America’s dolphins guarded military boats against enemy scuba divers in Vietnam, though the Navy denied rumors at the time that the dolphins had also been trained to kill Viet Cong divers. In the late 1980s, the United States used dolphins to help protect its ships in the Persian Gulf, where an animal named Skippy died of bacterial infection while serving his country.

At the conclusion of the Cold War, both Ukraine and the United States thinned their ranks of combat dolphins. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian combat dolphins were re-purposed for civilian programs, namely to provide therapy to autistic and emotionally disturbed children.

The Ukrainian Navy re-launched the combat training in 2011, though the program was slated to be shut down in April. Thanks to Mother Russia, though, the dolphins will keep fighting.

Hanna Kozlowska is a reporter based in New York.

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