History of the military dolphins of Russia and other war “bestialities”

History of the military dolphins of Russia and other war “bestialities”

A few days ago the American Naval Institute (Usni), on the basis of some satellite images, declared that Russia would be using militarily trained dolphins in the port of Sevastopol, in the Crimea, to guard the Russian fleet in the Black Sea. In fact, that which might seem a bizarre novelty, it is neither a novelty nor even so bizarre.

The "military" dolphins The "military" dolphins were present in the port of Sevastopol long before the conflict. That particular unit was in fact part of an old Soviet program with marine mammals, which after the dissolution of the Soviet Union passed to the Ukrainians, who however - as revealed by an employee of the project at the Russian agency Ria Novostni - did not have the necessary funds to carry out the project. With the annexation of Crimea in 2014, unity returned to Russian hands. However, dolphins are not the only marine mammals used by the navy, which in fact also includes Arctic belugas in its "fleet".

The case of Hvaldimir is famous (as he was renamed by combining the words "Hvlad", "whale" in Norwegian, and Putin's name), the beluga sighted in 2019 by Norwegian fishermen and immediately accused of being a Russian spy. In fact, the poor animal wore a harness with a camera and a tag that led it back to a unit in St. Petersburg. Whether it was used for military or much more noble scientific purposes is not known, but given the Russian silence it is not excluded that they were the first.

However, dolphins remain to have more consideration from a war point of view. The reasons that make them particularly suitable for military tasks are the great agility and above all the reliability of their sonar. A weapon that is especially valuable for detecting submarine mines. They can in fact reveal objects that escape electronic and mechanical systems, and have the ability to avoid accidental explosions thanks to their dexterity and the lack of ferrous substances that attract the magnetic mechanism of mines.

The anti-mine function is not, however, the only military use that a well-trained dolphin can cover. According to H I Sutton, the submarine analyst who discovered their presence in Sevastopol, they can also be used to kill human divers, given their strength, agility and intelligence. History does not agree with him, although before the collapse of the Soviet Union it was going in that direction.

As Valentin Zaitsev explains in his book on fighting dolphins, Sevastopol units were trained to spot any object floating on the surface or in depth from several kilometers away, to then transmit the signal to the central. There an operator decided how to intervene. He could order the dolphins to bring that "something" (which could also be a diver) to the surface in order to unmask it, send an armed boat to neutralize it or ask the poor aquatic mammals to attack it directly. A pair of gunsmiths, the Simonovs, had even invented a lethal weapon tailored to the dolphin, something like a three-barrel shotgun on the muzzle to hit a target at 20 meters with a 12-gauge bullet. experimented.

Animal programs of the CIA One of the first uses of dolphins as a weapon of war was when Garth, John, Slan, Tinker and Toad - these are the names of the four of the US Navy - were put to stationed in Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, to prevent an attack on a dock loaded with ammunition. In fact, the CIA had been developing the Navy Marine Mammal Program in San Diego since 1959, where California dolphins and sea lions were trained for the most varied tasks, including detecting, locating and recovering objects at sea, as well as defending ports and ships.

Dolphins are certainly the most used animals for war purposes. Not only from Russia and the United States, North Korea also has a program and Sweden is planning another. They proved to be the most useful after attempts with many other species. In the file declassified by the Agency in 2019, we discover bizarre cold war ideas starring other poor animals, programs on which the CIA has spent (wasted) millions of dollars.

Among the most popular, in addition to the dolphins that were the subject of programs such as Oxygas, which intended to use them instead of Seals to place explosives on ships or sneak into Soviet ports, there were birds: pigeons, hawks, owls and crows, who were often entrusted with the task of dropping a transmitter on a windowsill or taking pictures. The pigeon experiment was part of the operation codenamed Tacana.

In the more ambitious Axiolite project, the birds had to fly between the land and a boat a few miles away to be transported to the Soviet Union as spies, fly 25 kilometers to take photos of an SA-5 missile radar and turn back. The experiment failed miserably: the most promising, a crow named Do Da, was attacked by the like and never came back. It did not go any better with the experiment that was to lead crows to take pictures of the Leningrad shipyards. After several tests on American soil it seems that the Americans decided to leave it alone: ​​some managed to take some photos but most of them ran away with a camera around their neck, while another returned without the expensive equipment.

Not only birds, but also cats and dogs were tried as spies with a lot of listening devices inside. It was the purpose of the five-year program of the 1960s, codenamed Operation Acoustic Kitty, which cost a whopping 20 million dollars. Another experiment failed miserably, as the clandestine cat ended up hit by a taxi. The dogs seem to have had an even worse fate: they thought of installing electrical systems in their brain to see if they could be remotely controlled as some kind of "Manchurian candidates", but the files on the particular project have not yet been fully declassified, and seen the brutality of the thing is understood also the reasons.

Not only alive, but also dead, the animals could be useful to Langley. In fact, the mice that were used to exchange communications between agents are famous: microfilms and coded messages were inserted into their bellies to exchange information safely. Why mice precisely? As Janelle Neises, Deputy Director of the CIA Museum explains, for the dead drop device you need something that appears to be part of the environment but is so disgusting that no one would ever think of picking it up.

Returning to the dolphins, programs such as the Soviet one in Sevastopol and the American Oxygas, have shown that although useful for defensive purposes, dolphins proved to be absolutely against and unsuitable for offensive ones. In this, too, they proved to be more intelligent than men.

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