The Scoop Deck

Report: Ukrainian ‘killer dolphins’ switch sides

Biologist Sergei Antonov puts a sensor for locating lost objects on the snout of  9-year-old dolphin Diana at the Ukraine Defense Ministry dolphinarium in Sevastopol, Ukraine on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 1996. The only, and until recently secret, military scientific research dolphinarium in the former Soviet Union, where about 50 dolphins are trained for multipurposed military programs including searching missing ships and missiles, rescuing drowning people and destroying naval objects. (AP Photo/Sergei Svetlitsky)

A biologist works with a dolphin at the Ukraine Defense Ministry dolphinarium in Sevastopol, Ukraine, in 1996. The former Ukrainian marine mammal unit will serve Russian masters, a Russian news agency reported. (Associated Press photo by Sergei Svetlitsky)

An elite team of Ukrainian special operators will help Russian forces find explosives on the bottom of the Black Sea, a state-run Russian news agency reported.

The reason for the defection isn’t clear: Team members aren’t talking, and it’s tough to get inside the head of what RIA Novosti calls “Crimean combat dolphins.”

In 2012, Scoop Deck brought you the story of 10 dolphins being trained by the Ukrainian navy to attack human combat swimmers, possibly using knives and guns strapped to their heads. The program resurrected training efforts that dated back to the Soviet Union and had operated under Ukrainian military control briefly, then shifted to civilian jobs such as working with disabled youth. The whole unit shut down in February, RIA Novosti reported.

Soon after, the dolphin’s training center in Sevastopol — along with the rest of Crimea — fell under Russian control, leading to a series of tense standoffs between military forces and some high-profile defections, including the top man on the dolphins’ organizational flow chart.

News of the dolphins’ defection went viral, naturally. And new movie-themed memes probably won’t be far behind.

The U.S. Navy uses dolphins for some mine-detection duties, but plans to stop the practice in the coming years. Sevastopol and San Diego host the only known facilities that train marine mammals for such use. Learn more about the U.S. Navy’s Marine Mammal Program here.

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