I recently came across an article entitled “Russia looks to buy five dolphins with perfect teeth and killer instinct.” I assumed it was published by the Onion but it actually was from the Guardian (and not April Fool’s Day).
The article explains that the Russian military is “seeking two female and three male dolphins between three and five years old with perfect teeth and no physical impairments.” Hmm, is there a match.com for militaries and marine mammals? Do the marine mammals know that they have signed up for this matching website? I love the part about the perfect teeth. It’s good to be specific about what you are really looking for in a combat dolphin.
Apparently both the US and the Soviets deployed dolphins during the cold war for a variety of activities, including being trained to “detect submarines, underwater mines and spot suspicious objects or individuals near harbours and ships.” Wow, an arms race in marine mammals? Would that be a flipper race?
And the US use of sea mammals did not end with the Cold War. The article notes that the US deployed sea lions “to Bahrain in 2003 to support Operation Enduring Freedom after the 9/11 attacks.”
Here is a link to the website for the US Navy Marine Mammal Program and a description of which mammals they use and why:
“Dolphins are essential because their exceptional biological sonar is unmatched by hardware sonars in detecting objects in the water column and on the sea floor. Sea lions are used because they have very sensitive underwater directional hearing and exceptional vision in low light conditions. While dogs work as effective sentries on land, dolphins and sea lions cannot be outmatched as sentries in the water.”
Thankfully, the page also notes that the animals are released “almost daily untethered into the open ocean, and since the program began, only a few animals have not returned.” It’s a weird, weird world we live in folks.