Russian navy lets slip its kamikaze dolphins of war

The Russian navy is selling dolphins they trained to blow up enemy ships. The mammals were taught to carry mines that explode on contact, approach a vessel from below and rub against the keel.

The Russian navy is selling dolphins they trained to blow up enemy ships. The mammals were taught to carry mines that explode on contact, approach a vessel from below and rub against the keel.

"Those dolphins could even distinguish between the sound of the propeller of foreign submarine and a Soviet one," said Viktor Baranets, who worked for 10 years in the general headquarters of the Soviet armed forces.

Dolphin training started 30 years ago on the Black Sea at Balaclava, near Sebastopol in the Crimea. How many were in the project is not clear but half-a-dozen survived in a military laboratory. Further development stopped with the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The kamikaze dolphins are being sold as part of the rundown in Russian forces, under a decree signed by Vladimir Putin, the Russian Prime Minister. There is a general disposal of surplus military equipment, old trucks, tanks, armoured personnel carriers and bulldozers, which the impoverished Russian military no longer needs or can maintain.

"We now have only the pitiful remains of what we used to have in the Black Sea dolphinarium," said Mr Baranets. "We tried to keep the couples."

Vladimir Kozir, a correspondent of the military newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda, said the training started after information that the United States was investigating the use of sea animals for military purposes. Soviet and American navies had been impressed with the ability of dolphins to perform tricks in circuses. Mr Kozir says some dolphins were released into the Black Sea after the 1991 break-up.

Yesterday the naval department of the Russian Defence Ministry refused to confirm or deny training dolphins. But Igor Dygalo, the navy spokesman, said: "I don't know anything about dolphins, but even if we had such dolphins how can we sell them?"

The widespread violence of Russian business rivalries means that the dolphins could be used as an assassination weapon against businessmen who have bought boats.

"Can you imagine selling dolphins, which have had special training, to a businessman who has enemies?" said Mr Dygalo. "He can attach a bomb to a dolphin and direct him to anyone or anything he wants to get rid of."

In fact, the dolphins, trained for so long to carry out their lone missions, may have a more prosaic fate. Mr Baranets said he suspects the dolphins may not be sold to potentially murderous businessmen but, instead, be presented to water circuses.

He says: "There is one at Sochi [on the Black Sea coast] where you drop your wedding ring into the water and the dolphins easily find it."

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