Dolphin Mercenaries Get A New Master
July 18, 2014

Dolphin Mercenaries Get A New Master

Of the many ways in which man plunders the oceans, none can be more demeaning to our supposedly intelligent and perceptive species than the harm we do to cetaceans. The various ways in which we exploit dolphins are particularly alarming. These, as we all know, are very smart creatures with complex social and family structures, a highly developed language, and brains that have much in common with their human equivalent. Scientists who have studied them closely believe they also have many of the high level functions of human intelligence, including reasoning and empathy. Who can doubt it when they see the distress they can exhibit as, for instance, the dolphins at Taiji in Japan as they circle their captured or wounded family members? There is a strong lobby against such depredations and against “Dolphinariums,” but a lot of dolphins are still taken from the wild each year for food or dolphin entertainment facilities. But how about dolphins as weapons or dolphins as mercenaries?

The truth is that military operations around the world have been training dolphins for use in combat for more than 50 years. It is not hard to see the attraction. These animals can obviously be trained to perform complex tasks and in their marine environment they would not be recognized as a threat by any potential enemy. During the height of the Soviet empire, Russia was at the forefront of research into this field. One leading expert in this area was a certain Boris Zhurid, who trained many dolphins for the Russians. They were reportedly capable of attacking warships and frogmen – they could even differentiate between friendly and enemy divers using propeller sounds as a cue – and thus became known as Kamikaze dolphins. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, most funding for the project was lost and, as the BBC reported, the dolphins were transferred to an aquarium catering to tourists.

Now once more, lack of money has resulted in another move for the dolphins. Zhurid’s operation struggled in the cold winters at the Sevastopol base and could no longer fund the necessary food or medical supplies. The lot have been sold off to Iran. 27 animals were shipped by Russian transport aircraft, including the dolphins, seals, sea lions, a white Beluga whale, three cormorants and the indefatigable Mr. Zhurid, who intends to continue his “research” in Iran. The Russian paper Komsomolskaya Pravda described the dolphins as “mercenaries” and believes that Russia has sold off its “secret weapon” on the cheap.

So, Boris is somewhere in Iran indoctrinating his cetaceans into a new regime. It seems that political convictions are not his driving force, if we are to believe the statement attributed to him by the Beeb, in which he says “I’m prepared to go to Allah, or even to the devil, as long as my animals are OK there.” He really does want the best for dolphins then, except of course the one thing they really should enjoy – the freedom to swim in the world’s oceans. As doing his best for the dolphins once included, and probably still does, a willingness to see them blown to smithereens in the name of the military, then maybe this is one benefactor they could do without.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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Eric Hopton is a writer, musician, artist, and photographer. He has a degree in Social Anthropology and has always been passionate about travel, having so far visited 73 countries. His music and sound work has been used in many projects around the world and can be heard on Bandcamp and Freesound, where he has contributed over 1,300 sounds under his sonic alter ego, ERH.

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