13:03 GMT04 July 2020
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    Years ago, Tehran bought a handful of dolphins trained by the Soviet Red Army for military tasks. With the threat of war with the United States on the horizon, some military experts are wondering: what ever happened to those pernicious porpoises?

    Way back in 2000, the Russian Federation sold Iran a handful of dolphins purportedly trained in the art of naval combat. This wasn’t just playing steed for Aquaman, it was apparently deadly stuff: killing frogmen with harpoons and even carrying out suicide attacks on enemy submarines with explosive naval mines attached to their backs, according to Military.com.

    According to the BBC, the dolphins were trained in the waning days of the Soviet Union, but after the end of socialism and the Cold War, their old trainer, Boris Zhurid, brought them to a dolphinarium in Sevastopol to perform for tourists.

    However, when the dolphins went to Iran in 2000, Zhurid went with them, according to a Komsomolskaya Pravda article cited by the BBC. Not much else is known about them after that, but Military.com notes that depending on what species of dolphin the Soviets used, they could still be alive. It’s also possible that Zhurid taught Iranian naval strategists his methods, or trained more dolphins himself.

    Pictured: Iranian Dolphineers?

    ​It’s also possible the animals were freed. Back in March, Hamid Zahrabi, the deputy director of Iran’s Department of Environment, spoke out against the use of captive marine mammals for entertainment purposes. He told Iran Front Page News he intends to close the country’s dolphinariums and prevent the construction of new ones.

    It may sound far-fetched, but using dolphins and other cetaceans for naval ops is far from new. In fact, the Soviets didn’t even invent it: the Americans did.

    According to a shockingly detailed 2016 report by Slate on the history of dolphin soldiery, the US began research on using dolphins and other marine animals for underwater tasks. At its peak in the mid-1960s, the US Navy Marine Mammal Training Program in San Diego, California, had dolphins, orcas (which are also a kind of dolphin), beluga whales and even sea lions in its training pens, being taught to hunt down and mark naval mines, recover undersea objects, perform early warning watches and assist Navy swimmers.

    Back in 2012, when tensions were once again heating up between Iran and the US, the Atlantic noted that if Iran were to close the Strait of Hormuz with naval mines, the US Navy would call upon its dolphin forces to help them demine the waterway.
    Navy marine shows how a trained dolphin reacts to different hand gestures
    © CC0
    Navy marine shows how a trained dolphin reacts to different hand gestures

    However, one thing the Americans could never get the dolphins to do was kill things.

    Terrie Williams, a large mammal physiologist at the University of California at Santa Cruz, told Slate that while dolphins are physically capable of busting up a person with their snouts like they sometimes do to sharks, it’s “pretty far-fetched” that they could be trained to do that on command to a human. 

    That’s a desperate self-defense action, and with their delicate, highly sensitive sonar senses in the front of their heads as well, repeatedly bashing their snouts against an object is something they’re not likely to do willingly.

    Richard Trout, a former civilian mammal trainer for the US Navy, told the New York Times in 1990 that dolphins were too benign to kill divers.

    ''When they were supposed to ram us with the guns,'' he said, ''they either swam away or put their snouts on our shoulders, very affectionately. They were the worst at taking orders.''

    So if Iran does still have those killer commie cetaceans, it’s likely the rumors of their murderous mayhem capabilities are, well, a tall tail.

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    Tags:
    Strait of Hormuz, mining, Iran, Soviet Union, combat dolphins, dolphin
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