Satellite images have shown that Russia is using spy dolphins to scare Ukrainian divers.
Vladimir Putin’s bizarre tactics came under the scrutiny of British spy chiefs as their intelligence appeared to show increased security at the Black Sea Fleet base.
The South Russian Navy is based in the port of Sevastopol in Crimea and could become a key target of the Ukrainian counter-offensive, sources said.
As a result, the desperate Putin had piled up “layers of nets and barriers” at the port entrance, British Defense Intelligence said.
Bird’s-eye views of the strategic harbor revealed that it was dotted with makeshift barriers and a number of marine mammal enclosures.
According to the Department of Defense, “spy dolphins” were in the enclosures.
“Since the summer of 2022, the Russian Navy has invested in significant security improvements at the Black Sea Fleet’s main base in Sevastopol,” the Defense Ministry said.
“This includes at least four layers of nets and booms over the port entrance.”
“In recent weeks, these defenses have most likely also been reinforced by an increased number of trained marine mammals.
“Images show a nearly doubling of the floating mammal enclosures in the harbor, which most likely harbor bottlenose dolphins.”
The highly trained underwater forces were part of a military espionage program dating back to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
But the mammals have evolved significantly since then, and they played a key role in the sabotage when Russia occupied the peninsula in 2014.
The Defense Ministry claimed the animals are now being trained to attack Ukrainian divers.
A spokesman said: “Russia has trained animals for a number of missions, but the animals housed in the port of Sevastopol are most likely intended to repel enemy divers.”
“The Navy also uses beluga whales and seals in Arctic waters.”
Dolphins trained by the Ukrainian military died “patriotically” after allegedly going on a hunger strike when seized by Russians.
When the claims surfaced, Russia seemed to hit back in the weirdest way.
A Russian security source accused Ukraine of using “illegal nets” and fishing boats to poach marine life – including nearly 50 dolphins – off Russia’s coast.
He said: “Border Patrol officers managed to release 161 flounders, four crabs and three Black Sea sharks – but 46 dolphins died.”
By the 1970s, Ukraine’s bottlenose dolphins were being trained to conduct naval missions and were capable of planting bombs on ships and attacking divers with head-mounted weapons.
Borys Babin, the Ukrainian government’s representative in Crimea, announced that they had died and claimed they died while refusing to follow orders or eat food provided by the “Russian invaders”.
He said: “The dolphins, which were being trained by the Ukrainian Naval Forces in Sevastopol, communicated with their trainers through special whistles.”
“The trained animals not only refused to interact with the new Russian trainers, but also refused food and died some time later.
“Many Ukrainian soldiers took their oaths and loyalty far less seriously than these dolphins.”
Russian Duma deputy Dmitry Belik claimed that all combat dolphins serving in Ukraine’s naval forces were sold to commercial companies or died of natural causes.
“There is no question of Ukrainian patriotism towards the combat dolphins, because under Ukraine, the special forces dolphins … were engaged exclusively in commercial activities, not in underwater operations,” he said.
The crew of YaMK-0041, the boat accusing Russia of poaching dolphins, has been arrested and the captain faces up to five years in prison if convicted of poaching.
“The detention of the Ukrainian ship prevented major damage to the Black Sea ecology,” the FSB said.
“Crimea border guards pulled fishing nets more than 9,300 meters (30,500 feet) out of the sea and rescued 161 olive flounders, three dogfish and four green crabs.
“They have been returned to their natural habitat.”