Crimean dolphins defect to Russia

Crimean dolphins defect to Russia

Mammals trained to find underwater mines, retrieve objects and keep enemy divers away

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Illustrative photo of dolphins (photo credit: Jorge Novominsky/Flash 90)
Illustrative photo of dolphins (photo credit: Jorge Novominsky/Flash 90)

After the controversial Russian annexation of Crimea, the human citizens of the peninsula are not the only ones finding their loyalties changing: Ukraine’s military dolphin program — located in the Crimean city of Sevastopol — is slated to be transferred to Russian naval control, the Ria Novosti news agency reported.

The combat dolphins are trained to utilize their biological sonar, or echolocation, to detect underwater mines and prevent enemy divers from entering the country’s waters. Similarly, sea lions are used to find and retrieve suspicious objects from the murky depths inaccessible to naval technologies.

The program was founded by the Soviet Union in the 1960s and ultimately fell under Ukrainian naval governance after the communist regime’s dissolution.

However, until 2011, the dolphins were not used in any military capacity. Since the reinstatement of the spy marine mammal program, development has largely been neglected, and the Ukrainian navy had planned to close it down in April.

Now, under Russian rule, employees hope the program will be revamped, and the technologies and training methods updated accordingly.

“The oceanarium’s engineers are developing new instruments for new applications to boost the operational efficiency of the dolphins underwater,” an anonymous employee said.

While scientists had developed sophisticated methods to transfer signals from the dolphins’ sonar to a computerized radar system, the Ukrainian navy lacked sufficient funding to push the project forward, he said.

The Crimean dolphin training program is one of two mammal naval operations — the second being the US’s Navy Marine Mammal Program (NMMP) in San Diego, California, which was also founded in the 1960s.

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