A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Did Military Dolphins Go AWOL?

A prank photo from Fox News in Australia

The story was that three dolphins trained for action by the Ukrainian Navy had gone missing. Worse, they were armed. As the New York Daily News reported it yesterday:

Three of five dolphins taught by the Ukrainian navy to attack enemy combatants are reported missing after failing to return to a Crimean port following a training exercise earlier this month, the local media reports. The dolphins are believed to be out chasing tails.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry quickly went on the defensive, calling the reports “a fabrication” and “a gross provocation.” But no one was quite sure whether or not this was a flat-out denial.

Earliest reports from Russia and Ukraine said on Monday that three dolphins at the Sevastopol Aquarium that were part of a Ukrainian military program escaped during a training exercise in the Black Sea on February 24. RIA-Novosti said the dolphins were armed:

A military source in Sevastopol told RIA Novosti last year that the Ukrainian navy had restarted training dolphins to attack enemy combat swimmers and detect mines. The killer-dolphins would be trained to attack enemy combat swimmers using special knives or pistols fixed to their heads, the source said.

Dolphin blogger Justin Gregg offered this advice:

So if you are planning a family holiday to the Black Sea this week, I think it’s best you avoid any “friendly” dolphins that might approach – especially if they have KNIVES or PISTOLS strapped to their heads.

Various joke photos promptly appeared online, like this one:


Seriously, though, dolphins are certainly used by the Ukrainian Navy, which took the dolphins over from the Soviet Union’s Black Sea Fleet when the USSR broke up. (See our earlier reporton this.)

And the U.S. Navy has more dolphins and other marine mammals than any other military force in the world. Last year, the Navy deployed dolphinsto the Persian Gulf.

And here’s a 16-minute segment from CBS Sixty Minutes, first broadcast in 1973:

Whatever the Navy may say about how well its marine mammals are treated, it’s simply not true – it could never be true. These dolphins are captured from their families or bred in captivity, and when the trainers speak of “positive reinforcement”, what they mean is that the animals get food when they comply, and not when they don’t. Eventually they learn to do what the trainers tell them in order to get fed.

Using nonhuman animals to help us fight our very human wars is never justified; indeed, it’s probably the very worst form of exploitation.