Russia's deadly assault on Ukrainian port cities on the Sea of Azov was defined by air strikes and boots on the ground, but aquatic mammals – in theory – may have been involved too.
That's because Russia has two "top secret" centres for the training of seals, whales and dolphins.
The animals protect entrances to naval bases, look for underwater mines and, if needed, kill any intruders entering Russian territory.
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In Murmansk in northern Russia and in Sevastopol in Crimea, there are two top-secret centres allegedly for the training of marine mammals.
The Murmansk Marine Biological Institute and the Sevastopol Oceanarium are shrouded in mystery because the Russian government are tight-lipped about what goes on within the facilities.
Russia Beyond reported that the Russian military acquired five bottlenose dolphins in August 2016 and a tender for the purchase of dolphins was announced on the State Purchases' website.
According to a report by TV Zvezda, owned by the Defence Ministry, white whales have even been trained for military roles.
"Mainly it was about white whales with highly sensitive sonars," stated the Zvezda story. "It was planned that white whales could be on duty at the entrances to naval bases.
"But (they) turned out to be very delicate animals – they easily got ill after long swimming in cold polar waters."
So whales were seen as less capable than "seal-killers".
Gennady Matishov, a staff member at the Southern Scientific Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said the training of marine animals is nothing new, and has been happening since Soviet times.
Matishov told RBTH: "Their main role is to protect the waters of the fleet's principal base against underwater saboteurs. For instance, the bottlenose dolphins 'graze' at the entrance of the bay and, on detecting an intruder, immediately signal to an operator at a coastal surveillance point.
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"After that, in response to the relevant command, they're capable of killing an enemy on their own with a special dolphin muzzle with a spike."
Matishov added that the animals are also trained to look for mines.
In January, Hamas, the Palestinian armed group, made headlines worldwide when they claimed that they had “discovered a dolphin that the enemy used to hunt down members of our naval forces at sea."
A Hamas commander said that another member, Muhammad Abu Sam’an, had recovered a harness from the water, with an apparent weapon attached to it.
The claims were laughed off in international media, but considering Matishov's comments they were perhaps some truth in the rumours.
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