US and Russian "military dolphins" specially trained in combat could face off for the first time in an epic underwater battle, as tensions in Ukraine deteriorate further.
Ukraine's combat dolphins have already raised their fins in allegiance to the Motherland, switching their loyalties to the Russian Navy when it took over Crimea.
Now there are reports the US could position its dolphins in the Black Sea as part of NATO exercises during the northern hemisphere summer.
Russian newspaper Izvestia reports this has led to the Black Sea becoming a tense focal point for Russian and Western navies.
The paper wrote that according to a statement by Tom LaPuzza, spokesman for the US Navy's marine mammals program, twenty dolphins and ten sea lions will be in the Black Sea to train in an area traditionally dominated by the Russian navy.
“It may so happen that American and Russian military dolphins will meet in the open sea for the first time," he said.
“It is known that such dolphins are trained only in Russia and the USA.”
The combat dolphins are trained to identify underwater military threats, including spy equipment, enemy scuba divers (known as frogmen), or mines on the ocean floor.
As ludicrous as such a programme may sound to the untrained ear, dolphins have a sensitivity underwater which far exceeds the most advanced man-made sonar systems. Dolphins can also allegedly distinguish foreign and friendly submarines by the sound of their propellers.
It has oft-been rumoured that Soviet forces once trained killer dolphins, equipped with hypodermic needles loaded with carbon dioxide. In 2012, it was reported that the Ukrainian navy planned to resurrect the concept of dolphin assassins, by training them to attack enemy combat swimmers using special knives or pistols fixed to their heads.
After the breakup of the Soviet Union, the dolphin program was handed to the Ukrainian navy. The dolphins were initially retrained to work with disabled children and for other civilian uses. Military training was restarted in 2011.
The program, dating back to the 1960s, was due to be disbanded by the Ukrainian navy in April but Russia has decided instead to develop new equipment to boost the dolphin’s “operational efficiency”.