STRANGER THAN FICTION – According to high-resolution satellite photos provided by Maxar Technologies, and analysis from H I Sutton, a well-known submarine analyst who first reported on the dolphins for the U.S. Naval Institute (USNI) on Wednesday, dolphins appear to be used by Russian forces to protect the entrance to Sevastopol harbor in Crimea off Ukraine’s southern coast.
Sutton notes that the two dolphin pens, sheltered just inside a sea wall, were moved in February near the time Russia invaded Ukraine.
First found in low-resolution Sentinel 2 imagery
— H I Sutton (@CovertShores) April 27, 2022
Some Russian warships are based at the Sevastopol port, out of range of Ukrainian missiles. The flagship of the Russian Black Sea fleet — the Moskva – was sunk this month by two Ukrainian anti-ship missiles.
Sevastopol is the Russian Navy’s most significant naval base in the Black Sea. The dolphins may be tasked with counter-diver operations — a traditional role both the U.S. and Russia have trained marine mammals for. This could prevent Ukrainian special operations forces from infiltrating the harbor underwater to sabotage warships.
Inside the port, many high-value Russian Navy ships are arranged out of range of Ukrainian missiles but vulnerable to undersea sabotage, according to satellite photos. During the Cold War the Soviet Navy developed several marine mammal programs, including dolphin training in the Black Sea. The unit was based at Kazachya Bukhta near Sevastopol, where it still is today.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the unit transitioned to the Ukrainian military. Although there were attempts to keep it operational, it barely stayed open. With Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, the unit came under Russian Navy control. Subsequently, the marine mammal programs have been expanded and returned to operational service.
As the Washington Post notes, “dolphins have the most sophisticated sonar known to science, making it relatively easy for them to detect mines and other potentially dangerous objects on the ocean floor that are hard to detect using electronic sonar.”
Sutton said the dolphins could be used to counter specialist Ukrainian divers attempting to enter the port to sabotage Russian warships — something both the United States and Russia have previously pursued.
But these Russian military sea mammals aren’t limited to dolphins, or the Black Sea. Sutton notes that:
In 2018 the Black Sea Fleet’s dolphins were deployed for several months to Russia’s Mediterranean Sea naval base in Tartus, Syria, according to satellite photos. The mobile pens used for that deployment were very similar to the ones currently positioned in Sevastopol harbor.
In 2019, a Beluga whale also surfaced in Norway wearing a harness — prompting speculation that they were part of a Russian naval program.
The whale was dubbed “Hvaldimir” by locals — a combination of the Norwegian word for whale, and the first name of the Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Sutton adds that:
Beluga whale pens have now also been established at Olenya Guba [in the Arctic], the secretive naval base of GUGI (Main Directorate Of Deep Sea Research). The intelligence organization is believed to be responsible for key undersea espionage assets of the Russian military.
No word yet on whether Russian dolphins are being used as offensive weapons as in the 1973 science fiction film, “The Day of the Dolphin,’ where dolphins were kidnapped to be used as part of a political assassination plot.
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