As the climate for another Cold War heats up in Ukraine, rumors are flying, make that swimming, that the U.S. Navy is sending the destroyer USS Donald Cook to the Black Sea with a fleet of trained dolphins to take on the dolphins trained by Ukraine which are now in the hands, make that flippers, of the Russian Navy.
Russia’s Izvestia newspaper reported that the Cook was spotted on its way to the Black Sea surrounded by a flotilla of dolphins. The story was quickly picked up by media outlets around the world, creating buzz on the Internet and chirps in open waters and undersea nets.
The deployment is conceivable. The U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program, based in San Diego, trains bottlenose dolphins to detect submerged objects like mines or the enemy’s version of Navy SEALs. Speaking of seals, the Navy also trains California sea lions, not seals but commonly mistaken for them, to hunt enemy swimmers. Dolphins were used in the Vietnam War and deployed in the Persian Gulf during the First and Second Gulf Wars. It’s believed the Navy has about 120 dolphins and sea lions trained.
Russia’s dolphin program dates back to the Soviet Union. After the breakup, it was taken over by the Ukrainian Navy and made news in 2013 when five dolphins escaped during training exercises at the Crimean port of Sevastopol, possibly looking for mates.
So, can we expect to see fins silently cutting through the waters of the Black Sea and dolphins engaging in underwater battles that would make Neptune proud? Ed Budzyna, spokesperson U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program, answered the question bluntly.
There's no basis to the story.
Outside of the Persian Gulf, Budzea says virtually all naval dolphin operations are exhibitions conducted in US ports and laws such as the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Animal Welfare Act prevent the navy from using its dolphins as shields.
If the Navy isn’t going to use them, why does it have them? The Black Sea fin watch will undoubtedly continue.