Satellite images taken over the Black Sea naval base of Sevastopol have shown that Russia has deployed trained military combat dolphins to protect it from diver operations against warships.
Russia has deployed trained dolphins during its invasion of Ukraine to protect a Black Sea naval base.
The Russian Navy has set up two dolphin pens just within the sea wall at the entrance to Sevastopol harbor. According to satellite imagery, the pens were transferred there in February, around the time of the invasion of Ukraine.
In the Black Sea, Sevastopol is the Russian Navy’s most important naval base. The dolphins might be used in counter-diver operations, a function that both the US and Russia have traditionally trained marine mammals for. This could prevent Ukrainian special forces from infiltrating the harbor and sabotaging warships.
According to satellite images, multiple high-value Russian Navy ships are arranged inside the harbor, out of range of Ukrainian missiles but vulnerable to submarine sabotage. Several marine mammal programs were developed by the Soviet Navy during the Cold War, including dolphin training in the Black Sea. The unit was stationed in Kazachya Bukhta, near Sevastopol, where it is still stationed today.
When the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991, the unit was handed over to the Ukrainian military. Despite efforts to keep it operational, it only managed to stay open for a short time. With Russia’s takeover of Crimea in 2014, the unit was handed back to the Russian Navy. The marine mammal projects have since been expanded and brought back into service.
This is part of a larger reinvestment in marine mammal projects by the Russian military during the last ten years. This has included an unit from the Black Sea Fleet as well as a separate Arctic operation.
Russia’s Northern Fleet uses a variety of marine mammals in the Arctic north. Beluga whales and seals, which have thick layers of fat to remain warm, are better insulated from the cold than the Black Sea bottlenose dolphins.
In recent years, the Arctic unit has also been increasingly active. Beluga whale pens have been been constructed at GUGI’s covert naval base, Olenya Guba (Main Directorate Of Deep Sea Research). The Russian military’s major undersea espionage assets are thought to be in the hands of the intelligence group.
A trained beluga whale was discovered in northern Norway on April 23, 2019. According to the BBC, this whale, nicknamed ‘Hvaldimir’ by locals, is thought to have escaped from a Russian Navy program.
The usage of Russian marine mammals has increased across the board, not just in the Arctic. According to satellite images, the Black Sea Fleet’s dolphins were deployed for several months in 2018 to Russia’s Mediterranean Sea naval base in Tartus, Syria. The mobile pens utilized for that deployment looked a lot like the ones in Sevastopol harbor right now.
It’s unknown whether Ukraine has any plans to attack Sevastopol with combat swimmers. Dolphins, on the other hand, are largely regarded as an effective protection against divers by naval analysts.