However ominously martial Russia’s actions toward Ukraine have become, the next combatants in the crisis will not be the US navy’s fleet of dolphins.
Yes, the navy trains and keeps dolphins, whose powerful innate echolocation abilities help sailors spot suspicious undersea objects that might be mines. The marine mammal enlistees are the aquatic equivalent of the dogs, whose sophisticated sense of smell has aided US soldiers in the hunt for homemade insurgent bombs on land.
But, contrary to reports, the dolphins are not accompanying the USS Donald Cook to the Black Sea.
Russia’s Izvestia newspaper recently asserted that a team of US dolphins had formed a maritime security perimeter around the Cook, a guided missile destroyer the US recently sent to international waters near Ukraine. Last week, Russian fighter jets passed over the warship in a move the Pentagon considered a provocation, but it is unclear what the dolphins would have done to confront Russian airpower.
The question is moot, since, according to the navy, the dolphins were never alongside the Cook in the first place.
“There is no truth to this report,” said Lieutenant Commander Katie Cerezo, a navy spokeswoman.
There will probably be no truth to the next one, either.
The navy’s marine mammal program, based in San Diego, leverages the sonar-like echolocation of bottlenose dolphins to detect submerged objects that might be mines or suspicious swimmers. It also trains California sea lions – the animal kingdom’s marines – to rush to the scene of the potential danger, though usually retrieval missions are left to the larger mammals who serve as the navy’s explosive-ordnance disposal divers. In all, the program trains about 120 dolphins and sea lions.