Dolphins can do more than just jump through hoops and balance balls. They can be trained for a variety of military—some say deadly—applications, which is why the Russian military's recent purchase of five bottlenose dolphins is getting some attention. Russia's Defense Ministry sought bids on a contract to procure the marine mammals, reports NBC News, with the Utrish Dolphinarium in Moscow being the only one to respond. The government will pay $26,000 for the three male and two female dolphins, which are stipulated to have "all teeth intact" and "no mucus from the blowhole." The dolphins are scheduled to be delivered by Aug. 1 to a military dolphin training facility in Sevastopol, Ukraine, which was annexed by Russia in 2014.
Records don't indicate why the defense ministry wants the animals (and no one returned NBC's request for comment), but there is a decades-long history of dolphins being conscripted into the military to do things like detect mines and intercept underwater spies, per NBC. In the '60s, the US and the former Soviet Union had competing military dolphin programs. One former dolphin trainer who visited the Sevastopol facility told Wired in 2007 that dolphins were being outfitted with potentially lethal CO2 darts and then trained to poke swimmers. The US used dolphins during the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars, the Washington Post notes, and continues to use them to protect ports, find mines, and fetch objects. As for using dolphins to attack people, the Navy says: "It would not be wise to give that kind of decision authority to an animal." However, sea lions have been trained to attach clamps to a diver's leg, allowing human personnel up top to reel the diver in, per National Geographic. (Read more Russia stories.)