Dolphins trained by the Ukranian military in Crimea died after going on hunger strike following their seizure by Russian troops, according to a top Ukrainian official.
The facility for training sea mammals in Sevastopol, Crimea, is one of several Ukrainian naval assets that fell under Russian control in 2014 following Moscow’s annexation of the territory.
Hopes had not been high for the welfare of the animals, with Ukrainian authorities making repeated requests for the return of the mammals, to no avail.
Subscribe to The Week
Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.
“Some believed the Russians were planning to retrain the dolphins as Russian soldiers,” reports The Guardian. A source told Russian state news agency RIA Novosti that engineers were “developing new aquarium technologies for new programmes to more efficiently use dolphins underwater”.
Now, however, the Ukrainian government’s representative in Crimea has claimed that the dolphins perished defending their country.
Boris Babin said that the dolphins died “patriotically”, refusing to follow orders or eat food provided by the “Russian invaders”, with the hunger strike leading to their eventual deaths.
“The trained animals refused not only to interact with the new Russian coaches, but refused food and died some time later. Many Ukrainian soldiers took their oath and loyalty much less seriously than these dolphins,” Babin told Ukranian media.
Babin’s account of the dolphins’ fate sparked heated discussions online, both in Ukraine and Russia. “Some hailed the dolphins as heroes, while others disparaged Babin’s account,” reports Newsweek.
Russian Duma deputy Dmitry Belik has since claimed that all the combat dolphins that served in the naval forces of Ukraine had been sold to commercial entities or died of natural causes before 2014.
“There can be no talk about any Ukrainian patriotism with regards to the combat dolphins because under Ukraine, the special forces dolphins… were involved entirely in commercial activities, not underwater operations,” he told RIA Novosti.
But Babin told Ukraine media that ridiculing the story about the dolphins’ cause of death missed the bigger point he wanted to make.
“The issue is not about a handful of mammals who died because they were obviously distressed, be it because of their trainers or for other reasons,” he said during a TV interview. “However, we can speak about something else - that over the course of these few years, unfortunately, our potential in many spheres, including the naval sphere, requires significant improvement.”
Create an account with the same email registered to your subscription to unlock access.