Russia Recruits Combat Dolphins, Lists Perfect Teeth As Prerequisite - Atlas Obscura
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Russia Recruits Combat Dolphins, Lists Perfect Teeth As Prerequisite

The dolphins would join a secretive program that once taught the animals how to kill.

An American military dolphin. (Photo: U.S. Navy/Public Domain)

A government website has revealed that Russia wants five dolphins for military use, further rebuilding a Cold War-era program that saw the U.S. and Russia battle for supremacy in combat sea mammals.

Russia is looking for three male and two females, all between three- and five-years-old, with “perfect teeth,” according to The Guardian. The country is willing to pay around $24,000 for the five dolphins, according to a document that appeared on the government site. 

Assuming the ideal creatures can be found, Russia’s newest class of combat dolphins are to be delivered by August, and will further revive a program that has a long, secretive history.

The U.S. and Russia are believed to be the only countries in the world with military dolphin programs. The U.S. has around 75 trained dolphins, though it’s unclear how many are in the Russian program.

The U.S. has said that its program, based in San Diego, trains dolphins to detect submarines and underwater mines, among other tasks. American officials have long denied they are trained to kill. 

Russian dolphins, though, were explicitly trained to do so. Some could attack with harpoons attached to their backs; others were trained to drag frogmen to the surface, the BBC reported in 2000. Some were also trained for kamikaze missions against underwater mines.

If the new Russian program is a return to the days of killer dolphins, it has come after decades of neglect. The program, based on the Crimean peninsula, passed into Ukrainian hands after the fall of the Soviet Union. But around a decade ago, reports surfaced that a trainer and his dolphins had decamped for Iran after a sale. 

“I am prepared to go to Allah, or even to the devil, as long as my animals will be OK there,” the trainer, identified as Boris Zhurid, said then. 

In 2012, Ukraine once again began training dolphins for military use, born partly out of the relic of the Soviet-era program. After Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014, they got back into the dolphin business, taking over the Ukrainian government’s diminished program.

That program, like the old Soviet one, is based in Sevastopol, where dolphins have been trained at least since the end of World War II.