Russia has deployed trained dolphins during its invasion of Ukraine to protect a Black Sea naval base, USNI News has learned.
The Russian Navy has placed two dolphin pens at the entrance to Sevastopol harbor, sheltered just inside a sea wall. The pens were moved there in February, around the time of the invasion of Ukraine, according to a review of satellite imagery.
Sevastopol is the Russian Navy’s most significant naval base in the Black Sea. The dolphins may be tasked with counter-diver operations — a traditional role both the U.S. and Russia have trained marine mammals for. This could prevent Ukrainian special operations forces from infiltrating the harbor underwater to sabotage warships.
Inside the port, many high-value Russian Navy ships are arranged out of range of Ukrainian missiles but vulnerable to undersea sabotage, according to satellite photos. During the Cold War the Soviet Navy developed several marine mammal programs, including dolphin training in the Black Sea. The unit was based at Kazachya Bukhta near Sevastopol, where it still is today.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the unit transitioned to the Ukrainian military. Although there were attempts to keep it operational, it barely stayed open. With Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, the unit came under Russian Navy control. Subsequently, the marine mammal programs have been expanded and returned to operational service.