The Russian Navy Whale Isn't The Only Animal Used For Military Operations
A whale found wearing a harness and harassing Norwegian fisherman is believed to have been trained by Russian military as a special operations agent.
The white beluga whale was unusually comfortable around humans and was filmed swimming beside and repeatedly nudging the fishing vessel.
Norway is a key member of NATO, and Russia operates a military base in the region around Murmansk, at the northern tip of the Scandinavian Peninsula.
Marine experts in Norway believe the whale was trained as part of a specialist program in the Russian navy.
The harness the animal was wearing appeared to have been designed to hold a camera or weapon. The words "Equipment of St. Petersburg" were found stitched into the harness, according to The Guardian.
In 2016, Russia's Defense Ministry announced on a procurement website that they were looking to buy five military-trained dolphins to reignite their Soviet-era use of the animals for intelligence programs.
Dolphins had been used in Russian military operations at the height of the Cold War for detecting underwater weaponry -- their teeth and memory capabilities made them ideal for this task.
The 2016 public document stated the Ministry was seeking two female and three male dolphins with no physical impairments.
A 2017 Russian television report also showed the Russian navy training a number of ocean mammals -- including beluga whales, dolphins and seals -- for military purposes.
So, what other military operations involving animals have existed?
Operation Acoustic Kitty
The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) implemented a number of controversial and cruel military intelligence operations in the 1960s.
Operation Acoustic Kitty involved five years and US$20 million in development to create audio equipment to be surgically fused to the base of cat skulls. The animals were opened along the entire lengths of their bodies to conceal antennae, and the fur was grown over to conceal the equipment.
Unfortunately, the cat that the CIA used -- a grey and white female -- was unable to be trained and on its first trip into the world, the cat was hit and killed by a taxi whilst crossing the road.
A heavily redacted NSA document published in the archives of George Washington University showed the agency conceded "it would not be practical" to train cats for military purposes.
US Navy Marine Mammal Program
The US currently trains and deploys bottlenose dolphins and sea lions to recover objects in harbours, locate undersea mines, and apprehend unauthorised swimmers and divers that might be threatening US Navy equipment.
The program was declassified in the 1990s, and the Navy now openly shares stories about their animals and missions.
The program has also experimented with sharks, rays, sea turtles, and marine birds for their sensory detection abilities, but these species were not found to be trainable for operations.
During the Iraq war, trained dolphins were flown to a key port in the country to sweep for mines around the city of Umm Qasr.
Soviet Anti-Tank Dogs
During WWII, dogs were trained by the Russian army to detonate bombs beneath approaching German tanks.
Unfortunately, the dogs were not able to be trained to simply drop the bombs and run -- instead they would dive under the tanks and the bombs would be detonated, killing the animal.
Over 40,000 dogs were used in this manner during the war.
However, the program was notoriously unsuccessful, with dogs refusing to approach tanks and becoming extremely distressed by the battle. It is estimated that only 300 tanks were destroyed in this manner.
The Bat Bomb
Following the bombing of Pearl Harbour during World War II, the US military briefly dabbled with a project known as Operation X-Ray that looked at dropping containers full of bomb-depositing bats over Japan.
The concept was thought to be an effective way of scattering incendiaries throughout the nooks and crannies of Japanese cities.
However, the project was dropped after more than US$2 million had been committed to development, as resources were redirected to creating the atomic bomb.
The Pigeon-Directed Missile
During World War II, famous behaviourist psychologist B.F. Skinner launched a research program that aimed to reliably bomb targets in Germany using pigeons.
Skinner presented his idea to the US National Research Defense Committee to a sceptical reception, but was granted US$25,000 to begin the project.
The work in Skinner's laboratory had already been focused around training pigeons in behavioural experiments, and he believed the extraordinary vision of the animals could be used to guide missiles.
The design for the bomb involved placing screens and a pigeon cockpit at the nose of missiles and training the birds to recognise the pattern of their targets, which would elicit pecking from the pigeons.
Harnesses attached to the animal would then mechanically move the bombs towards the German locations.
Despite initially successful demonstrations, the project was eventually put aside due to apprehension from army officials.
Sir Nils Olav
OK, so while he is not technically a part of military operations, this penguin has been officially knighted as an honorary member of the King of Norway's Guard and inspects Norwegian soldiers when they visit Edinburgh Zoo.
The king penguin was even been promoted as Brigadier Sir Nils Olav in 2016 and he represents the close relationship between Norway and Scotland.