Russia has deployed military-trained dolphins to protect its Black Sea naval base in Crimea from submarine attack, new satellite images reveal.
The images, taken by the American satellite company Maxar and reviewed by the non-profit professional military association US Naval Institute, show that two dolphin pens were placed at the entrance to the port of Sevastopol at the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February. The port, which is located on the southern tip of Crimea, is a major port and of vital military importance to Russia. While many of the Russian ships anchored there are out of range of Ukrainian missiles, they could still be attacked underwater, yielding trained bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) an important role to play in his defense.
Russia has been training and deploying marine animals for military purposes since the 1960s. During the Cold Warboth in the US and in the Soviet Union developed marine mammal programs: the US used California dolphins and sea lions, while the USSR deployed dolphins in warm waters and beluga whales and seals in Arctic regions.
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The Soviet navy used Sevastopol as a base from which to train and dispatch dolphins on operations during the Cold War, but the marine mammal units came under Ukrainian control and fell into disuse after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, when Crimea became part of Ukraine. Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, the dolphin units passed into Russian hands. Ukraine demanded the return of the animals, but the request was denied by Russia, which has since expanded its operations involving marine mammals.
Dolphins can communicate through high-pitched whistles, and they also detect objects and determine distances through echolocation, sending high-frequency clicks that bounce off objects, revealing their proximity to the dolphin. Specially trained dolphins use this natural sonar to detect and draw attention to naval mines or enemy divers. Russia also claims to be finding new ways to make use of dolphin detection capabilities.
“Our specialists developed new devices that convert underwater sonar target detection of dolphins into a signal for the operator’s monitor,” a source told Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency. “The Ukrainian navy lacked funds for such know-how and some projects had to be put on hold.”
Military marine mammal programs are expensive; The US Navy spent about $75 million on military upkeep of dolphins between 2012 and 2019, Hakai magazine reported, though how much Russia spends on its marine mammal programs is not publicly known.
This is not the first time Russia’s militarized marine mammals have been spotted. In 2018, satellite images revealed that Russia had deployed dolphins to a base in Tartus, Syria, during the Syrian war, according to Forbes. A year later, Norwegian fishermen reported that a surprisingly tame beluga whale had been harassing their boats while wearing a harness that read, “Team St. Petersburg,” Live Science previously reported.
Maxar, the satellite company that took the photos, produces “90% of the critical geospatial intelligence used by the US government for national security and keeping troops safe on the ground,” as well as the images. for companies like Google Earth and Google Maps. .
Originally published on Live Science.