MOSCOW: The Russian Ministry of Defense wants to buy five bottlenose dolphins, according to an acquisition tender.
It would not disclose why it needs the aquatic mammals that can be trained as combatants, the Russian newspaper reported on Thursday.
The military want three males and two females to be shipped to Sevastopol before August 2016. The animals must be three to five years old and measure 2.3 to 2.7 meters long, the terms of the tender say.
They must be caught under the supervision of a professional vet specializing in aquatic mammals and kept in quarantine by the seller for one month before being transported to the military in seawater tubs.
Bids are being collected until the end of the month, and the ministry is offering to pay about $4,900 per dolphin.
The price may exclude some foreign sellers from the deal – in 2013 Japanese dolphin brokers sold 20 untrained dolphins to Ukraine at a price of just over $10,000. The ministry may be counting on the seller to catch the dolphins locally in the Black Sea, although this would require special permission as bottlenose dolphins living there are protected by conservation agreements.
The ministry would not disclose why it wants the five dolphins, but the tender reignited speculation that Russia has restarted a program for training combat dolphins. A counterpart for the US Navy Marine Mammal Program, the Russian scheme was launched in the Soviet Union in the 1970s.
The only Soviet dolphin training facility was based in Crimea’s Sevastopol, and went to the Ukrainian Navy after the collapse of the USSR. After the peninsula rejoined Russia in 2014, the military aquarium went to the Russian Navy.
Later in the same year, some media reported that the Russian military had conducted exercises for combat dolphins, but the Defense Ministry denied this and said the program had been suspended because Russia had no need for soldier animals.