A storm struck the Black Sea earlier this week and wreaked havoc along the coast. Among the victims of the wind’s brutality was the Sevastopol harbor, in occupied Crimea, where the Russian navy kept its military dolphins.
It is currently unclear whether the animals are still in their pens or whether they have jumped at the chance to escape. What is known, however, is that the pens are badly damaged.
This information was discovered by H. I. Sutton, a journalist and open-source intelligence analyst who identified the situation after examining recent satellite images.
“A massive storm battered Crimea on the Nov 26-27. Preliminary analysis reveals that the dolphin pens in Sevastopol harbor are gone(!) 100%”, Sutton wrote in a post on X (formerly Twitter).
It has been suspected for some time that Russia has been deploying trained military dolphins during its invasion of Ukraine. In April 2022, the US Naval Institute (USNI) suggested the animals were being used to protect Russia’s naval base in the Black Sea.
At the start of February last year, two dolphin pens were set up at the entrance to Sevastopol harbor.
The Russian vessels at the base may be out of range of Ukrainian missiles, but they could be sabotaged by underwater efforts. This, it is believed, is the reason for the dolphin’s presence in the harbor.
After the USSR collapsed, the dolphins it had trained during the Cold War were adopted by the Ukrainian military. But Russia took possession of them again when they annexed Crimea in 2014. According to Ukrainian sources, although Russia tried to expand the program, some of its marine soldiers refused to “defect”, going on hunger strike and dying “patriotically”.
Russia is not alone in this method of aquatic defense. Many navies use trained dolphins and whales for specific jobs, which can include protecting vessels and bases, but also retrieving objects from the seafloor and locating mines.
In addition to its dolphins, the Russian navy has also utilized beluga whales for its military exploits. In 2019, a suspected spy beluga was seen in Norwegian waters wearing a harness labeled “Equipment of St. Petersburg”. Norwegian biologists named it Hvaldimir, who they believe may have escaped from his enclosure.
Hvaldimir has since been seen exploring the waters around Sweden.
Regarding the potentially escaped dolphins, if they have indeed made a break for it, they will likely do well living in the Black Sea. There are other subspecies of bottlenose dolphins in those waters, as well as other cetacean species. That is, as long as they survive the dangers imposed by the ongoing conflict in the area.