WDC is monitoring with concern reports that Russian armed forces have taken control of Ukrainian military bases holding dolphins.
WDC has documented the use of dolphins in military programmes and investigated the export of military dolphins from the Black Sea previously.
This is not a new phenomenon in the area. A military dolphinarium was established in June 1965 and began activities in Kazachya Bay, Sevastopol in April 1966. Until recently this facility operates as a state research centre for the Ministry of Defence and National Academy of Sciences of the Ukraine. Reports indicated that over the years a significant number of dolphins escaped from the programmes.
The direct killing of dolphins was practiced in the region until 1983 when Turkey finally banned the kill. Up to that point harbour porpoises, bottlenose dolphins and the ‘common dolphin’ were all killed in their millions.
Dolphins were killed primarily for oil in 19th and 20th Century, with some for meat, but it was mostly a commercial venture.
The USSR and previous Russian empire killed some 1.5 million dolphins. The total kills of Turkey, Russia and the other regional countries for the period have been estimated at 5 – 6 million.
Black sea bottlenose dolphins are genetically distinct from all other bottlenose dolphins in the region and are subsequently recognised as a subspecies of the common bottlenose dolphin.
There is no current population estimate of the sub-species but they are listed as Endangered by the IUCN.
Current threats include incidental mortality in fishing nets, especially bottom set gill nets (it is reported that between 300 and 400 bottlenose dolphins are bycaught by Turkish fisheries every year), prey depletion, habitat degradation and pollution (including the microbial pollution from untreated sewage in coastal waters, thought by some to potentially be the cause of the morbillivirus).
WDC investigated the trade in live caught dolphins between 1991 and 1997, leading to the WDC report ‘The Dolphin Traders’.
In the 1990s the Ukrainians and Soviets exported a number of dolphins to Argentina, Cyprus, Hungary, Israel Malta and Turkey, with some suspected exports to Vietnam and even Iran. The US military were so concerned at these exports that the WDC website was hacked from the US in what we believed was an attempt to get access to the report.
Most of these dolphins were described as ‘ex-military but were now being used to interact with the public.
Dolphins had been trained to locate divers and then interdict them, driving them to the surface using Carbon Dioxide . Others were trained to locate lost weapons.
Further to a campaign by WDC, CITES, the trade regulator, then banned the trade in bottlenose dolphins from the Black Sea.
WDC will watch with concern as the Russian Navy is reported to be planning to re-use the Ukrainian dolphins to go into harms way again.
Russia has now become one of the prime suppliers of whales and dolphins for the captivity trade. WDC is campaigning to stop this trade once and for all.