STRANGER THAN FICTION – According to high-resolution satellite photos provided by Maxar Technologies, and analysis from H I Sutton, a well-known submarine analyst who first reported on the dolphins for the U.S. Naval Institute (USNI) on Wednesday, dolphins appear to be used by Russian forces to protect the entrance to Sevastopol harbor in Crimea off Ukraine’s southern coast.
Sutton notes that the two dolphin pens, sheltered just inside a sea wall, were moved in February near the time Russia invaded Ukraine.
First found in low-resolution Sentinel 2 imagery
— H I Sutton (@CovertShores) April 27, 2022
Some Russian warships are based at the Sevastopol port, out of range of Ukrainian missiles. The flagship of the Russian Black Sea fleet — the Moskva – was sunk this month by two Ukrainian anti-ship missiles.
Sevastopol is the Russian Navy’s most significant naval base in the Black Sea. The dolphins may be tasked with counter-diver operations — a traditional role both the U.S. and Russia have trained marine mammals for. This could prevent Ukrainian special operations forces from infiltrating the harbor underwater to sabotage warships.
Inside the port, many high-value Russian Navy ships are arranged out of range of Ukrainian missiles but vulnerable to undersea sabotage, according to satellite photos. During the Cold War the Soviet Navy developed several marine mammal programs, including dolphin training in the Black Sea. The unit was based at Kazachya Bukhta near Sevastopol, where it still is today.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the unit transitioned to the Ukrainian military. Although there were attempts to keep it operational, it barely stayed open. With Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, the unit came under Russian Navy control. Subsequently, the marine mammal programs have been expanded and returned to operational service.