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Ukraine officials are asking for the return of their trained military dolphins that they claim were seized by Russia during the annexation of Crimea. Although they returned Ukraine’s military equipment, the Russian Navy has not released the dolphins that are used as underwater spies for Ukraine. The bottlenose sea creatures are highly trained to detect and investigate possible underwater risks such as sea mines, and spying equipment. They can also locate, attack and kill enemy divers. The dolphins are considered extremely valuable and are important navy assets.
Currently, the underwater mammals are being held at a public aquarium in Cossack Bay, which was previously owned by the Ukrainian military. In the 1960s, Soviet training of the dolphins began in Crimea. After the break-up of the USSR, the division for dolphin training was passed over to Ukraine’s Navy. When Russian forces acquired Crimea in March, they also took over Ukraine’s naval bases throughout the region, including the military’s dolphins in addition to fur seals and sea lions.
According to a Russian news agency, it is highly unlikely that Russia will ever return the animals back to Ukrainian officials because they have invested time in not only preserving but redirecting the combat skills of the dolphins and the entire program to benefit the Russian Navy. The Russian military also plans to purchase new equipment to enhance the operational effectiveness of the dolphins.
These underwater animals are a unique asset because the only other nation to use a dolphin force in their navy is the United States. However, unlike the Soviet dolphins, the American ones are never used for combat.
Dmitry Yunusov, first deputy of the Henichesk Regional State Administration has asked for the Russian Navy to return the dolphins they seized from Ukraine. Yunusov also claimed that a new aquarium to house the dolphins has been built with a large pool that is 2,400 cubic meters as well as comfortable living conditions and is currently awaiting their return.
The training program for marine mammals in Sevastopol’s Cossack Bay has been training dolphins and other sea animals for the navy since 1965. Some insist that the mammals trained there were also taught to attach naval mines to enemy vessels and even carry out attacks against rival submarines by using natural sonar to decipher between engine noise from enemy vessels and Soviet submarines. However, similar to the Soviet soldiers, the dolphins came upon hard times at the end of the Cold War. During the cessation of the USSR, more than 150 beluga whales and bottlenose dolphins as well as nearly 50 sea lions served in navy units. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1995, the dolphins became under Ukraine’s control. In 2000, 27 remaining animals as well as special equipment were sold to Iran.
In 2012, Ukraine relaunched the military training program. Its current dolphin generation in Cossack Bay is said to already be extremely proficient at locating lost weapons and underwater obstacles with buoys. Despite Ukraine’s pleas to return the seized dolphins, Russia does not seem to have any plans to give back the underwater mammals anytime soon. Russia has already bought military equipment to use in conjunction with dolphin training in an effort to make them more effective.
By Laura “Addi” Simmons