Russia’s Military Dolphins in Crimea: More Than Just a Cute Trick

In December 2014, combat dolphins participated in an exercise at the Sevastopol Aquarium to search for military equipment at a depth of more than 60 metres.

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Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna is a Defence & Aerospace analyst and is the Director of ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany with manufacturing units in Russia. He is Consulting Editor Industry and Defense at Frontier India.

Russia has reportedly strengthened security at the main base of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet, located in Crimea. According to the publication Naval News, the Russian military command has doubled the number of combat dolphins guarding the military facility. Approximately 6-7 dolphins protect the naval base, whereas there were 3-4 initially.

Journalists from Naval News claim that since the start of military operations, the Russian Navy has deployed specially trained combat dolphins on the northern side of the harbour entrance. At the same time, artillery systems, anti-aircraft defence, ships, and submarines have been deployed to protect Sevastopol Bay.

Anyone who has visited a dolphinarium can attest that dolphins and fur seals can be taught anything. According to zoologists, dolphins have the most precise hydro locators known to science. This enables them to detect mines and other underwater hazards with ease. In addition, no diver can match a dolphin’s pace. The Russian Navy has been known to have a marine mammal training programme for a long time, and it appears that number of dolphins increased after a succession of attacks by Ukrainian drones on ships of the Black Sea Fleet.

Two dolphin enclosures were visible on satellite images from Maxar Technologies, as reported by the Washington Post in April 2022. The enclosures are situated on both sides of the bay’s entrance. According to military experts (from space intelligence), the corrals appeared around the time of the “invasion of Ukraine” in February 2022.

What we know of the Russian Navy Dolphins

In March 2016, the Russian Federation’s Ministry of Defence requested proposals to acquire five bottlenose dolphins. The solicitation details were published on the public procurement website.

The military department did not disclose the purpose of the acquisition. The ministry estimated that one animal would cost 350,000 rubles (about $5300 then). The shipment was to occur before August 1 of the same year. According to the documents, the dolphins, two females and three males, will be transported to Sevastopol. The two pens mentioned by The Washington Post appeared in the exact location six years ago.

In Crimea, a Centre for the Training of Marine Mammals was founded in 1965 and trained dolphins for anti-sabotage operations. It was developed in response to comparable initiatives in the United States. 

Dolphins defended the waters of the Black Sea Fleet base during the Soviet era. They patrolled the bay’s entrance and reported any intruders to the operator of the coastal station. They could “independently eliminate” the intruders with muzzle-mounted harpoons if necessary. They were instructed to attach mines to enemy vessels and save drowning sailors.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Centre was transferred to the Ukrainian military and began to deteriorate. Some were also sold to Iran.

After Russia annexed Crimea, the Russian military assumed authority of the Crimean State Oceanarium in Sevastopol. Sergei Menyailo, the then-administrator of Sevastopol, proclaimed the final transfer of the oceanarium to the Russian Ministry of Defence.

In the spring of 2014, there were media reports that the Russian Navy intended to recruit Crimean combat dolphins. And at the end of 2014, according to media reports citing an anonymous source, special forces conducted a training exercise with combat dolphins at the Sevastopol Oceanarium.

According to Ria Novosti, in December 2014, combat dolphins participated in an exercise at the Sevastopol Aquarium to search for military equipment at a depth of more than 60 metres. A cetacean discovered an object resembling a mine and marked it with a buoy.

However, the Russian Federation’s Ministry of Defence denied rumours about exercises involving combat dolphins. Yuri Plyachenko, former commander of the Black Sea Fleet’s anti-diversion forces, stated that combat dolphins would no longer be used to neutralise swimmer-divers “since the era of global conflicts has ended.”

According to the military official, the dolphins were intended for search and rescue operations and the examination of underwater conduits and cables.

When word leaked to the press that the Black Sea Fleet was conducting exercises with combat dolphins in the oceanarium, the Ministry of Defence denied it immediately and categorically, stating that there is no need to train dolphins for military purposes since the fleet’s bases are adequately protected.

According to reports, Russia deployed its Black Sea dolphins to the Syrian naval base in Tartus in 2018.

In 2019, a “harnessed” beluga whale, which many believed belonged to the Russian fleet, was discovered in Norway.

The United States continues to train dolphins as part of a Navy programme for using marine mammals in the military. The Pentagon employs roughly seventy-five creatures. 


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