It sounds like a gag from a lost sequel to Austin Powers, but the Russian Navy’s use of sea mammals seems very real, and they appear to be deployed in Crimea in Russian-controlled Ukraine.
Maxar’s satellite photos of the Black Sea port of Sevastopol show an easily recognizable form of enclosure we’ve seen before for Russia’s use of trained dolphins for deployment near conflict zones.
Former Forbes contributor HI Sutton spotted the pens in 2020 satellite imagery that Russia sent to support its war in Syria.
“Dolphins would likely be used to counter enemy divers who might try to sabotage ships in harbour,” Sutton wrote at the time. “Marine mammals could also be used to retrieve objects from the sea floor or to carry out intelligence missions.”
Given the location of the enclosures in Sevastopol at the entrance to the port, the animals could again play a defensive role. Other images from Maxar of the harbor show what appears to be a missile-laden Russian submarine.
Footage released by the Russian Defense Ministry appears to show missiles being fired at Ukrainian targets from submarines in the Black Sea.
All of the images were taken on April 29, but Sutton conducted a review of satellite images for the US Naval Institute and concluded that the enclosures had been moved to the Black Sea in February, at the time of the invasion of the Ukraine.
Russia invaded Ukraine on February 25. After being pushed back by resistance forces in the northern part of the country around the capital of kyiv, Vladimir Putin’s forces have focused their attacks on the east and south of the country. Sevastopol is on the southern Crimean peninsula, which has been controlled by Russian forces since 2014.
When Russia took Crimea by force, it also took control of the trained dolphins that had been used by the Ukrainian army.
It is therefore not entirely clear what the chain of custody of the Black Sea dolphins has been or where their loyalty lies, although it is a safe bet that they will work for anyone who has fish at a given time.