North Korea may be training dolphins as part of a maritime program aimed at boosting its naval and military defenses, the United States Naval Institute (USNI) revealed this week.
USNI identified the potential program initially at the Nampo naval base on the country’s west coast. The site has previously been used for major naval displays that have become increasingly common under communist dictator Kim Jong-un.
The USNI describes itself as an independent non-profit organization that seeks to provide an “independent forum for those who seek to advance and strengthen the naval profession.”
Satellite imagery purportedly shows animal pens in the waters between a shipyard and a coal loading pier where the dolphins are trained. USNI believes the pens were relocated in October 2016, possibly to allow space for the dolphins to be bred.
Kim has invested prominently in dolphins for civilian uses. In 2012, shortly after he assumed power following the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, he and wife Ri Sol-ju attended the opening of a theme park in the capital of Pyongyang featuring its own dolphinarium.
Very few countries currently have maritime animal military programs due to high costs. America was the first country to pioneer such a program, training dolphins and other marine mammals for military purposes at the naval base in San Diego. The only other known country to have followed suit is Russia, which has similarly developed programs in its naval bases in the Arctic and Black Seas.
USNI details how dolphins and other marine mammals can be of use to their trainers because of their agility underwater:
Marine mammals can be trained to locate or pick up objects on the sea floor, such as mines or expended training torpedoes. The same skills can be used to inspect objects on the seabed, like cables and sonar arrays. If these are friendly, then it is useful for maintenance.
The USNI report continues:
Marine mammals can also be used to defend naval bases against saboteurs. They can also be trained to detect enemy divers and mark them for investigation and neutralization. Human swimmers cannot compete with dolphins or seals in speed, agility, and the natural ability to ‘see’ in dark or murky water.
It’s not a contest, but because they cannot identify whether the diver is a friend or foe, they would only be used to mark the target by attaching a buoy. This is also more practical for training purposes. Enemy divers can then be dealt with by grenades or nets with shark hooks.
Scientists believe dolphins to be the most intelligent sea mammals currently studied. As explained by National Geographic, before the emergence of humans, scientists believe Dolphins were the most intelligent creatures on the planet.
“Pound for pound, relative to body size, their brains are still among the largest in the animal kingdom — and larger than those of chimpanzees,” the magazine noted in 2015.