NB: New details provided by Ukraine's Defense Ministry give compelling reasons to suspect that the initial Ukrainian media reports about the dolphin escape were based on a hoax. To read the latest story about these developments, click here.
SEVASTOPOL, March 12 (RIA Novosti) - Three of the Ukrainian navy's “killer” dolphins that reportedly swam away from their handlers during training exercises probably left to look for mates, an expert said on Tuesday.
Ukrainian media reported earlier this month that only two of five military-trained dolphins returned to their base in the Crimean port of Sevastopol after a recent exercise.
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry denied the reports, while refusing to confirm the navy makes use of dolphins, despite the frequent appearance in Ukrainian media of photographs of dolphins with military equipment strapped to them.
“There were repeatedly cases in the 1980s when control was lost over dolphins,” said Yury Plyachenko, a former Soviet naval anti-sabotage officer. “If a male dolphin saw a female dolphin during the mating season, he would immediately set off after her and would no longer obey any commands. But in a week or so he’d come back.”
Dolphins were trained at Sevastopol for the Soviet Navy as far back as 1973. They were trained to find military equipment such as mines on the seabed, as well as attacking divers and even carrying explosives on their heads to plant on enemy ships.
After the breakup of the USSR and the division of the Black Sea Fleet into Ukrainian and Russian fleets, the dolphin training section and its specialists were handed over to the Ukrainian navy. They were then used for civilian tasks such as working with disabled children, in order to keep the unit intact.
A military source in Sevastopol told RIA Novosti last year that the Ukrainian navy had restarted training dolphins to attack enemy combat swimmers and detect mines. The killer-dolphins would be trained to attack enemy combat swimmers using special knives or pistols fixed to their heads, the source said.
Updated on March 14, 2013, adding the word "reportedly" to the first paragraph and correcting the quote in the fourth.