The waters around the Crimean Peninsula became a lot more dangerous in recent months, with anti-ship missiles sinking Russian flagships, bridges exploding and any other spillover from Russia’s disastrous “special operation,” which is how Russian President Vladimir Putin insists people call the war in Ukraine.
With Ukrainians rapidly taking back lost territory, Russia likely feels the need to keep what’s left of its most important military asset, a naval base in Sevastopol, from spontaneously combusting.
Before invading Ukraine, Russian state media touted its hypersonic missiles, T-14 Armata tanks and the S-400 missile defense system. To protect Sevastopol, however, Russia isn’t relying on its nuclear-powered Poseidon underwater drone; it’s using killer dolphins, according to the U.S. Naval Institute.
Nothing in the region seems to be safe from Ukrainian weapons. The warship Moskva, formerly the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet before relocating to the sea floor, was hit by two Neptune anti-ship missiles closer to the coast of Moldova than Ukraine or Russia in April 2022. The Kerch Bridge connected Russia with Crimea on the far side of the peninsula, hundreds of miles from Ukraine’s mainland.
The destruction of the Kerch Bridge in October 2022 is a move akin to locking the door to Russian forces outside of the peninsula, while locking the occupiers inside. A logical follow-up, in the eyes of some naval experts, will be depleting the number of Russian defenders in Crimea, most likely through the Sevastopol base.
Keeping saboteurs and special operators out of a port or harbor is a difficult job, requiring either constant vigilance or cutting-edge technology. Since technology can only be as cutting edge as the Russian draftee manning the controls, vigilance is the key. What could be better than an animal who never really loses consciousness, even while sleeping?
Recent satellite imagery revealed what appears to be dolphin pens near the installation. This wouldn’t be a first for Russia, as the Crimean pens are similar to ones used by Russia’s navy in the Syrian port of Tartus. Russia isn’t even the first country to weaponize sea life. The United States, North Korea and Israel also use trained dolphins to protect critical bases.
Read: Militarized Dolphins Protect a Quarter of US Nuclear Stockpile
The U.S. Navy not only uses dolphins but also enlists sea lions to detect undersea mines and search out combat divers infiltrating the waters around American bases. Russia has used dolphins and a number of other animals for the same protections since the days of the Soviet Union, including seals and beluga whales.
One of those beluga whales likely appeared off the coast of Norway in 2019, wearing a harness meant to mount a GoPro camera. Like any other Russian conscript, the whale escaped its captivity and fled the Russian military, looking for help elsewhere in Europe.
No one is certain how the Ukrainian military managed to detonate the Kerch Bridge, with speculation ranging from sabotage to long-range missiles and stealth boats to special operations divers. While there’s not much a bottlenose dolphin can do against a long-range missile, they are widely accepted as credible protection from combat divers. In fact, they may be the best protection.
— Blake Stilwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.
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