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Dolphin assassins menace Gulf of Mexico

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Heavily-armed, frightened, and confused. No, we don't mean the Bush Administration, but a group of killer dolphins trained by the US Navy and lately washed into the Gulf of Mexico by Hurricane Katrina, if The Guardian is to be believed.

According to an Observer report by Mark Townsend Houston, Navy dolphins trained to shoot suspected terrorist frogmen with narcotic dart guns mounted on their heads have gone over the top, and may be menacing divers, and perhaps nice dolphins like the ones recently found cowering near their former pens at the Marine Life Oceanarium in Gulfport, Mississippi. No wonder they were so frightened.

The evidence for this report is the loose speculation of one Leo Sheridan - "a respected accident investigator who has worked for government and industry" - who, we are told, "had received intelligence from sources close to the US government's marine fisheries service confirming that dolphins had escaped."

"If divers or windsurfers are mistaken for a spy or suicide bomber, and if [the animals are] equipped with special harnesses carrying toxic darts, they could fire," Sheridan told the Observer. "The darts are designed to put the target to sleep so they can be interrogated later, but what happens if the victim is not found for hours?" he fretted.

Worrying to be sure. We find, however, that Sheridan has made sport of gullible reporters in the past. In 2003, he was confident that he and a team of divers he advised had located the site where English aviator Amy Johnson died, after her plane went into the sea off Kent in 1941. The Guardian carried that item too. Not surprisingly, there has been little news about Johnson's plane since the announcement.

He also appears to have been confident, back in 1998, that a group of US Navy killer dolphins had come to grief off the French Mediterranean coast when they got loose and their handlers detonated a "radio-controlled explosion of their signal collars, so that no one could find out their missions." (Find out their missions?)

Now, admittedly, the US Navy does use trained dolphins, by its own admission. They're useful for mine detection and for locating suspected enemy swimmers, rescuing friendly swimmers, and the like. But we find ourselves persuaded by the Navy's explanation that dolphins, being an alien species with an entirely different sensory and cognitive apparatus, are ill equipped to detect and process the subtle signals that humans use to distinguish between friend and foe, and are therefore unsuited to search-and-destroy missions.

But dolphin assassins would make great fodder for a B-movie suspense script.

Oops, sorry; that's been done. ®

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