A military unit on the territory of the state oceanarium in the port city of Sevastopol on the Crimean Peninsula will be disbanded by April, the source said.
“The scientific work will be discontinued. The military personnel will be transferred to other units, while the civilian staff will be laid off,” the official said.
“We haven’t decided yet what to do with the dolphins – whether to set them free or to sell them to aqua parks,” he said.
He added, however, that the civilian personnel of the oceanarium were planning to appeal to Defense Minister Pavel Lebedev to keep a dolphin-assisted center for child therapy on the territory of the closing military facility.
“Since 1998, our civilian experts have trained dolphins to help treat children [with neurological diseases]. This program proved to be very successful … and to lose such a unique experience and trained dolphins would be extremely unwise,” the source said.
According to the official websites of Ukraine’s navy and the oceanarium, the training of dolphins for the Soviet navy in Sevastopol dates back to the 1960s. They were trained to find military equipment such as mines on the seabed, as well as to attack divers and help develop “means for fighting at sea.” In the 1980s, the aims of the training included anti-sabotage and rescue operations.
After the breakup of the Soviet Union and the divvying up of the Black Sea Fleet into Ukrainian and Russian fleets, the dolphin training section and its specialists went to the Ukrainian navy. They were then used for civilian tasks such as working with disabled children, in order to keep the unit intact.
In 2011, the Defense Ministry reportedly restarted special combat training for dolphins that included patrolling stretches of water and detecting items of military interest and then marking them by attaching floating buoys.