In 2012 the US Navy it was reporters that it had decided to end its marine mammal warfare programme in which dolphins and sea lions were trained to detect mines and enemy divers (although the latest story about military dolphins suggest it might still be ongoing)..
The Russians had been training dolphins at Sevastapol in the Crimea since 1973 using them like the Americans, patrolling open waters but also carrying explosive devices. The Ukrainians were also in the game – although their dolphins went AWOL in the mating season!
Now it’s been announced that the Russian Ministry of Defence has ordered 5 dolphins raising speculation that it is reviving its soviet era programme. It’s prepared to pay 1.75m roubles (about£18,000) for two male and three female bottle-nose dolphins up to 2.7 metres long.
So it looks like the Russians want to pick up where they left off now they are back in Crimea. The tender documents specify that the dolphins must be good looking (well actually it says symmetrical with no broken teeth and undamaged eyes and skin).
After the Russians invaded and seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 (do you remember that bit of piracy?) they announced that the combat dolphin programme, which they claimed to date back to the 1960s, would be “redirected to the needs of the Russian navy“. The Russians claim that their experts developed new devices which converted the dolphins’ sonar signals to a signal on an operator’s monitor but the Ukrainians lacked the funds to develop such expertise.
The Ukrainians also used their dolphins to help disabled children in a programme run by the military at the Sevastapol State Aquarium.
Only the Russians appear to have trained dolphins to attack humans or vessels. The Americans say “Since dolphins cannot discern the difference between enemy and friendly vessels or enemy and friendly divers and swimmers, it would not be wise to give that kind of decision authority to an animal”
Of course the Russians might not want the dolphins for military purposes at all. Perhaps Mr Putin has built an aquarium in his back garden and wants some good-looking performing mammals!
See more on the use of marine mammals here