News & Opinion | May 7, 2019 10:42 am

“Russian Spy” Whale Isn’t the First Military-Grade Animal

Dolphins and sea lions have long been used to recover torpedoes and test out new equipment

Beluga Whale
A beluga whale was allegedly used by the Russian navy. (Getty)

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From towing to hunting, humans have long looked to animals for practical help. So it should come as little surprise that the military thinks it’s a good idea, too.

Last week, a beluga whale was spotted off the coast of Norway with equipment strapped to it that is believed to belong to the Russian government. Its harness appeared “specially made,” with “mounts for GoPro cameras on each side of it,” according to Jorgen Ree Wiig, a marine biologist at Norway’s Directorate of Fisheries.

But while the discovery came as a huge surprise to many, the utilization of the whale is not, actually, out of the ordinary. In 2017, the Murmansk Sea Biology Research Institute in Russia trained beluga whales, dolphins and seals in military roles, CNN reported.

And it’s not only the Russians — in the 1960s through current day, the U.S. government trained dolphins and sea lions to detect sea mines and swimmers, recover torpedoes and test out new naval equipment. It’s believed that sea lions in the Marine Mammal Program have likely recovered millions of dollars of U.S. torpedoes and other instruments that were dropped on the ocean floor, according to CNN.

“I hope that one day there is a robot or a UUV (unmanned underwater vehicle) that makes the mammal program obsolete,” Marine Mammal Program Director Mike Rothe told CNN in 2011, “But right now this is the best thing out there.”