The pinnipeds are being taught to neutralize sea mines, inspect pipelines with cameras mounted on their backs, rescue people, detect alien objects in territories they're guarding, and help people with underwater work, among other tasks.
The institute has over three decades' worth of experience working with seals, with training taking about a year and a half. The seals can then serve for 15, 20 or even 30 years.
The Murmansk Marine Biological Institute is unique in the world. In 1984, thanks to the efforts of Academician Gennady Matishov, a department was established at the institute to oversee the semi-secret training of combat marine mammals, approved by Soviet Navy command to protect the Northern Fleet.
The seal training program was just one component of the Cold War-era training program of so-called biotechnical systems. In addition to seals, Soviet and Russian researchers have also experimented with sea lions, dolphins, and even beluga whales.