The Dark History Behind Russia's 'Combat Dolphin' Program

Combat dolphins are in the news again after Russia announced it was taking over the Ukrainian military dolphin program.

The program, previously directed by the Ukrainian Navy, trained dolphins to find mines in the water and track down divers.

The dolphins have also allegedly been outfitted with weapons that could be used to kill people and even put a bomb on a submarine.

How would one go about training these dolphins?

A History Channel clip gives some details about how the program was created in the 1960s. The dark truth is, it’s practically animal abuse.

Many of the dolphins in the former Soviet program were originally bought from the black market, before the 1973 Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The wild or captive dolphins were placed in a pen and separated from their social group.

Trainers create strong bonds with the dolphins by spending a lot of time with them.

In the U.S., the Navy also has a Marine Mammal Program, but they use positive reinforcement to train the animals.

But in what was then the Soviet Union dolphin program, the History Channel video suggests that trainers relied on fear and anxiety. They would drain water from its pen to wear down its resistance and put it in a harness and muzzle.

The dolphins were deprived of food to make them reliant on their trainers, and the food rewards that they got for performing tricks -- like killing enemy divers.

The dolphins were allegedly put in isolation tanks, which is terrible for these social animals because they don't like to be alone. When trainers would let them out, they would be completely attached. These were the most effective dolphin soldiers.

'I could take a wild animal and turn it into a good military animal in three or four months,' military dolphin trainer Victor Grigoriev said in a History Channel program about the military dolphins.

They even tried to control the dolphins using electrodes in their brains -- through trial and error the Soviets discovered that the animals usually died. 'There's just no reliable way to force dolphins to take orders like go to the left or go to the right,' Vadim Belyaev, who also worked with the program, said in the clip.

The dolphins were trained to use a nose cone that contains a small clamp. According to the clip, the dolphins were trained to swim up to the diver and nudge him with the cone, which tags him so divers could find him from the surface. These cones could probably have also been fitted with knives, explosives, or other weapons.

When the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, the dolphin program, still based in Sevastopol, became an asset of the Ukrainian Navy. Under Ukraine's supervision, The Atlantic writes, the program languished. According to this 2005 ABC Australia news report, the military dolphins were being used as therapy animals for a while.

Source: The Atlantic

The dolphin program made the news again in 2012 when Ukraine announced they would be revamping the program. According to RIA, 10 dolphins were once again being trained to attack enemy combat swimmers. 'We are now planning training exercises for counter-combat swimmer tasks in order to defend ships in port and on raids,' an anonymous source said in the article.

Source: RIA

Since the Ukrainian program was based in Crimea, the Russians have now taken over the program. Hopefully the animals won't be used as assassins or subjected to terrible training techniques in the future. A new article in Ria Novosti says: 'The dolphins are trained to patrol open water and attack or attach buoys to items of military interest, such as mines on the sea floor or combat scuba divers trained to slip past enemy security perimeters, known as frogmen. Man-made sonar systems are often incapable of detecting such small objects in crowded environments such as harbors.'

Source: Ria Novosti

Here's what happens when you torture other marine mammals:

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