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Russia’s dolphin guards are part of a long tradition

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As a teenager, I read “The Day of the Dolphin,” a Cold War potboiler about a scientist who teaches dolphins to communicate with humans.

The dolphins are stolen by a shadowy government group, which tries to use them to assassinate the U.S. president. The movie was directed by Mike Nichols, written by Buck Henry and featured George Scott — a trio guaranteed to provide a subtle tone of paranoia and parody. (Nichols and Henry were responsible for “The Graduate,” and Scott was the inimitable Gen. Buck Turgidson in “Dr. Strangelove.”)

I recalled “The Day of the Dolphin” last week after reading reports that Russia had deployed dolphins to guard the entrance to the Sevastopol harbor, a key Black Sea port that houses an important Russian naval base. The news was a reminder that animals have been an integral part of the military since armed forces were first organized and planners and strategists continue to devise ways to use them more efficiently and creatively.

Satellite photos show two dolphin pens at the entrance to Sevastopol harbor. The port is beyond the range of the Ukrainian missiles that are believed to have sunk the Moskva, the flagship of the Black Sea fleet, but there are fears that Kyiv has other ways to sabotage Russian warships. The dolphins serve as underwater sentinels, detecting and attacking divers or other saboteurs.

Both the United States and the Soviet Union trained dolphins and other sea mammals for military duty during the Cold War. Both governments prized the dolphins’ speed, sonar and ability to dive deep without decompression problems. The U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program credited dolphins and sea lions with being “highly reliable, adaptable and trainable marine animals” that possess “excellent low light vision and underwater directional hearing.”

Dolphins were trained for guard duty, to locate lost or sunken underwater objects, including ordinance and to spy on or surveil harbors and other maritime facilities. A key assignment has been finding mines: Scientists believe that bottlenose dolphins can outperform........

© The Japan Times

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