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Stealth Dolphins

A trained mine-seeking dolphin mugs for the camera. Photo credit: U.S. Navy

U.S. Government Issue Dolphins

Cetacea For Elite Reconnaissance And More!

Observation by Lev Six

Largely, using dolphins for military purposes is no secret. The U.S. Navy trains dolphins to hunt mines, and tests several dolphin-based systems designed to stop enemy divers from infiltrating harbors. The Soviet Union had a dolphin program of its own based at the Black Sea port of Sevastopol until the USSR cracked apart. The Soviet dolphin unit stayed in Sevastopol, but ownership was transferred to Ukraine…

Now they’ll be trained to kill, allegedly. If so, it won’t necessarily be the first time. Russian commandos trained to fight dolphins in case the animals were ever used against them. The Soviet navy once deployed dolphins armed with hypodermic syringes loaded with carbon dioxide, according to one dolphin expert who advised the Sevastopol base on caring for the animals after the program first ended. Soviet dolphins were also purportedly trained to attach mines to ships, and were attached with parachutes before being thrown from helicopters.

Rumors about killer dolphins have also been directed at the U.S. Navy. One former Navy dolphin trainer said the Navy experimented with arming dolphins with syringes.

But whether the Ukrainians are attaching pistols to the dolphins’ heads — that’s a little iffy. The program “sounds directionally on point,” e-mailed Webb, whose unit practiced diving with U.S. Navy dolphins. But “attached firearms to their heads seems far fetched.” For one, dolphins can be lethal without a weapon attached to their heads or snouts. Ukraine will also have to devise a contraption to set off a blast. But a triggered-on-contact “bang stick” — which are used to scare off sharks — risks inadvertently killing or grievously injuring any dolphin armed with one.

Other non-lethal aspects of the program sound similar to the mainstream U.S. Marine Mammal Program. Officially, that program doesn’t train dolphins to kill and never has. “The Navy does not now train, nor has it ever trained, its marine mammals to harm or injure humans in any fashion or to carry weapons to destroy ships,” the Navy states. Instead, the Navy has tested a device called the Mark 6 Marine Mammal System: a buoy attached to a dolphin’s snout. Once detecting an enemy diver, the dolphin plants the buoy nearby and returns to its handler. The buoy then floats to the surface and emits a strobe light to mark the location for human guards. The Ukraine program appears to be largely similar. In a recent Ukrainian exercise, dolphins searched for items “and attached devices to them which were fixed on their heads, after which a buoy on it was sent to the surface to mark it.”

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