Monday, September 26, 2005

Armed Dolphins possibly set loose by Katrina

From The Guardian:

Armed and dangerous - Flipper the firing dolphin let loose by Katrina
by Mark Townsend Houston
Sunday September 25, 2005

It may be the oddest tale to emerge from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Armed dolphins, trained by the US military to shoot terrorists and pinpoint spies underwater, may be missing in the Gulf of Mexico.

Experts who have studied the US navy's cetacean training exercises claim the 36 mammals could be carrying 'toxic dart' guns. Divers and surfers risk attack, they claim, from a species considered to be among the planet's smartest. The US navy admits it has been training dolphins for military purposes, but has refused to confirm that any are missing.

Dolphins have been trained in attack-and-kill missions since the Cold War. The US Atlantic bottlenose dolphins have apparently been taught to shoot terrorists attacking military vessels. Their coastal compound was breached during the storm, sweeping them out to sea. But those who have studied the controversial use of dolphins in the US defence programme claim it is vital they are caught quickly.

Leo Sheridan, 72, a respected accident investigator who has worked for government and industry, said he had received intelligence from sources close to the US government's marine fisheries service confirming dolphins had escaped.

'My concern is that they have learnt to shoot at divers in wetsuits who have simulated terrorists in exercises. If divers or windsurfers are mistaken for a spy or suicide bomber and if equipped with special harnesses carrying toxic darts, they could fire,' he said. '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?'

Usually dolphins were controlled via signals transmitted through a neck harness. 'The question is, were these dolphins made secure before Katrina struck?' said Sheridan.

The mystery surfaced when a separate group of dolphins was washed from a commercial oceanarium on the Mississippi coast during Katrina. Eight were found with the navy's help, but the dolphins were not returned until US navy scientists had examined them.

Sheridan is convinced the scientists were keen to ensure the dolphins were not the navy's, understood to be kept in training ponds in a sound in Louisiana, close to Lake Pontchartrain, whose waters devastated New Orleans.
The navy launched the classified Cetacean Intelligence Mission in San Diego in 1989, where dolphins, fitted with harnesses and small electrodes planted under their skin, were taught to patrol and protect Trident submarines in harbour and stationary warships at sea.

Criticism from animal rights groups ensured the use of dolphins became more secretive. But the project gained impetus after the Yemen terror attack on the USS Cole in 2000. Dolphins have also been used to detect mines near an Iraqi port.

UPDATE- Brenda found the folloing

MSN had this article:

Dispelling a myth of dangerous Navy dolphins
'Countdown' investigates report of marine mammals armed, on the loose

Everyone knows the cliche about life imitating art. Well, here we go again. Because of Hurricane Katrina, we have learned of a reported factual parallel to one of the most over-the-top ideas ever in one of the most over-the-top movie spoofs ever.

In 'Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery,' One of Mike Myers' many characters, Dr. Evil, asks his people to provide him with "Sharks with fricking laser beams attached to their heads."Now, do we have a case of fiction becoming reality?

On Monday, the British newspaper "The Observer" quoted an accident investigator who claimed that three dozen U.S. military dolphins, supposedly trained in secret training near Lake Pontchartrain, had been washed away by Hurricane Katrina.

These animals were supposedly capable of identify underwater spies and were carrying special harness which permitted them to fire toxic darts at anybody trying to sabotage a ship.
Presumably, the actual firing would be done by remote control, rather than by the dolphins, who may be really smart, but who do not have hands with which to press the firing button for the "fricking darts," nor, for that matter, any "fricking laser beams attached to their heads."
Well, it sounds ludicrous, except that the Navy has long admitted experimented to see if dolphins could be used militarily. The idea of them as last lines of defense against underwater terrorists was broached very seriously in the months and years immediately after 9/11.

On Monday evening, however, the Pentagon actually issued a statement saying all of its dolphins have been accounted for. Moreover, the DOD says its dolphins aren't trained to attack, just to look for "objects" with their diver companions. Plus, they have no dolphin units in Louisiana, only in San Diego.

So, could there be 36 trained dolphins out there somewhere carrying toxic darts on their backs, ready to shoot surfers or divers or Lloyd Bridges or Patrick Duffy from "Manimal"?

Moby Solangi, the president of Marine Life Oceanarium in Gulfport, Miss., which rescued several of its dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico after Hurricane Katrina, appeared on 'Countdown' Monday to discuss the possibility.

To read an excerpt of their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

KEITH OLBERMANN: Well, I'm confused. Are there such dolphins? Were they in the New Orleans area? Could they be missing? And, if so, should we assume they are armed and dangerous?

MOBY SOLANGI, PRESIDENT, MARINE LIFE OCEANARIUM: Well, boy, I will tell you, that sounds like something from "X-Files." If I'd known, we probably would be running away from our own dolphins!

OLBERMANN: Make sure I'm right on this one point here, that dolphins could not actually fire poison dart guns, even they are wearing them, even they are loose, because they don't have hands. Am I right about this so far?

SOLANGI: No, I think that's science fiction. And these animals are trained. It's common knowledge, underwater mines and divers. But I think darts and all that is a little bit too far.

OLBERMANN: The story in the British paper suggested the one thing, the one kernel of supposed truth off which they hung this entire story was that, when your dolphins were located out in the Gulf and met up with their handlers and eventually rescued, that the Navy wanted to inspect the dolphins first. Is there any truth to that?

SOLANGI: No, not at all.
As a matter of fact, we didn't have any Navy folks. Now, they have had helped us, provided us these temporary tanks, which we're holding these animals until they recover, so they can be transported. But, no, the Navy has absolutely no involvement in the rescue of these animals, other than providing with us temporary pools.

OLBERMANN: And nobody saw any other dolphins in the neighborhood wearing big darts. How are your dolphins, by the way? We need to follow up on that.

SOLANGI: Oh, they're doing wonderfully well. They're getting healthy. We moved all eight of them to the C.B. base in Gulfport, Mississippi. And, after they recover, we should move them into other aquariums around the country.

OLBERMANN: All right, last question. If I see one of these dolphins wearing a harness with a poison dart gun on its back in my neighborhood, should I call Homeland Security or George C. Scott or Dr. Evil? Or who should I call?

SOLANGI: I think should you swim fast!


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