Special Ops With Navy Seals, Dolphins and Whales

Photo of author
Written By Hasan Rezazadeh

Russia has enlisted the help of military trained dolphins to protect ships in the Black Sea from attack.

The Russian Navy has built two pens for the sea creatures on either side of the mouth of Sevastopol harbour – the Crimea base for the Black Sea fleet.

Intelligence suggests the Russians have seven trained dolphins at the base.

The Russians have thrown a veil of secrecy around the mission, leaving analysts unsure what the dolphins can do – if anything.

Russia has a history of training dolphins for military tasks.

Russia’s Dolphin Defence Program

In the past dolphins have been trained to retrieve objects from deep under the waves or to deter enemy divers.

Sevastopol is a key naval base nestling at the southern tip of Crimea, which was seized by |Russia from Ukraine in 2014.

The base controls ships entering and leaving the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea, but while sited out of range of most drones and missiles, the ships docked there are vulnerable to undersea attacks.

The dolphin defence program is a relic from the Soviet era. Trainers worked with dolphins at the base in the 1980s, but the program was abandoned after the Cold War ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the upheaval of the 90s disintegration of the former Soviet Union.

The dolphin training centre is an aquarium near the Crimea city.

Dolphin Defenders at Sevastopol

In 2012, when Crimea was part of Ukraine, the Ukraine Navy resurrected the program. The Russians took over the dolphins when seizing the city in 2014.

Apparently, the Ukraine team had taken training the dolphins as far as they could on limited funds.

When the Russians took over training the aquatic mammals.

The Russians developed a device that converts dolphin sonar pulses into a signal an operator can view remotely.

Satellite imagery shows the two dolphin pens were installed at Sevastopol in February 2022, just ahead of the land invasion of Ukraine.

Undersea Special Ops

During the Syrian civil war, the Russians have previously deployed military dolphins at Tartus, Syria.

Dolphins were picked for Russia’s special ops undersea because they have excellent eyesight, move quickly and silently in water and are easily trained.

Initial training is expected to occur at the Murmansk Sea Biology Research Institute in Russia’s cold north.

Other sea creatures trained for military purposes by the Russians reportedly include seals and a Beluga whale seen near Norway in 2019 wearing a harness with electronic devices attached.

Fishermen took images of the white whale near the village of Inga.

Navies That Train Dolphins

Training sea creatures for naval missions isn’t exclusive to the Russians – both the North Korean and US navies have had recent animal training programs.

The Russian navy favours different sea creatures for hot and cold conditions.

Bottle-nosed dolphins are preferred in the Black Sea and Mediterranean, while seals and whales patrol colder northern waters.

The US Navy trained dolphins and sea lions at a San Diego, California base. Around 70 dolphins and 30 sea lions were listed in the program in 2019. They help defend naval bases, detect mines and design of underwater vessels and weapons.

The training is similar to that of police and hunting dogs. The creatures are rewarded with food when correctly completing a task. The navy says dolphins are not trained to kill and claims that training them to kill humans is impossible.

Sea lions have been trained to aid divers by carrying tools and other equipment, operating at depths of up to 120 metres. Naval trainers say they better respond to human orders than whales.

Bottlenose Dolphins

Bottlenose dolphins are friendly to humans and are intelligent creatures that easily bond with their trainers. Dolphins weigh around 300 kilos but can grow bigger. A dolphin measures around 13 feet from snout to tail. They come in several colours, mostly shades of blue or grey. Dolphins can live for 40 to 50 years, with females generally outliving males.

Beluga Whales

The whale of choice for military purposes. These whales live in cold, arctic waters and enjoy interacting with humans. Beluga or white whales weigh between 1,100 and 1,600 kilos and are about the same length as a bottlenose dolphin (13 feet). They can live for around 50 years in pods of up to 100 whales.

California Sea Lions

One of six sea lion species, California Sea Lions, are found along North America’s west coast from Alaska to Mexico. Males and females differ in size, shape and colour. Males weigh around 525 kilos and measure eight to nine feet long. Females are smaller – around seven feet long and weighing 100 kilos. The sea lions live, on average 35 years.

Special Ops With Navy Seals, Dolphins and Whales FAQ

How long can dolphins and seals stay underwater?

Dolphins can remain underwater for up to 15 minutes, Beluga whales can stay down 15 minutes, while a sea lion can submerge for up to 40 minutes.

Do sea lions attack humans?

Sea lions are not typically dangerous to humans, but they will attack if they are cornered or threatened, if ill and during the breeding season to protect their young.

Where do Beluga whales come from?

Beluga whales are native to the Arctic Circle from the USA and Canada through Greenland and Norway to Russia.

How long does training a sea creature take?

Training a dolphin, sea lion or whale for military purposes takes at least four to five years.

Do Beluga whales sing?

Beluga whales communicate by singing, which is why they are often called sea canaries.

Does caviar come from Beluga whales?

Beluga caviar is a food delicacy from the BEluga sturgeon and has nothing to do with whales.

How long have navies used sea creatures?

The US and Russian navies have recruited dolphins, whales and sea lions for at least 50 years. The US Navy pioneered enlisting dolphins, followed by the Russians.

Is recruiting sea creatures a naval joke?

Plenty of official documents, photos and videos support the naval programs, so the projects are not thought to be a hoax.

How do you spot a Beluga whale?

Firstly, look at their size and colour. Beluga whales are white and about 13 feet long. They have a distinctive bulging forehead and mainly spend their time swimming deep enough below the ocean’s surface to cover their bodies.

What do whales, dolphins and sea lions eat?

These military trained sea creatures are carnivores with a diet of mostly fish.