LEAPING into the air and twirling back down into the ocean, dolphins are graceful, elegant creatures, known for their intelligence. Now, they stand accused of taking this a step further, by becoming trained assassins.


Secret agent dolphins?

Palestinian militant group Hamas said one of its swimmers was killed by an Israeli military dolphin off the Gaza Strip, trained by Israel's spy agency, Mossad.


A killer dolphin?

The group posted a video online saying one of its naval units was chased by the alleged aquatic asset while wearing a harness equipped with a gun or spear-like weapon capable of assassinating its fighters. In the clip, the harness itself that was apparently attached to the dolphin's snout was shown.


Far-fetched, no?

Not as far as you may think. Defence analyst, H I Sutton, said of the video - which alleges one of the Hamas frogmen was killed by the dolphin - that it wasn’t out of the question. He said: “Dolphins cannot tell friend-or-foe so generally you would not expect them to deliver lethal force. Instead they mark the target with a buoy. The harness device may be part of that type of system. Or, possibly, it is indeed a straightforward weapon. There is no evidence that confirms that the harness is Israeli, or even off a dolphin. However the report does have some credibility. It is at least plausible that Israel may have a Navy marine mammal program.”


As they do exist?

Since 1959, the US Navy has trained dolphins and sea lions as teammates for sailors and marines to help guard against underwater threats, with tasks including mine detection and clearance, equipment recovery and ship and harbour protection. Dolphins were used in the Vietnam War and in the Persian Gulf, with tasks at times also including underwater surveillance with cameras in their mouths. The US military said in 2000 it had flown trained dolphins to key southern Iraqi port, Umm Qasr, to sweep for mines.



After the fall of the Soviet Union, the military mammal program passed to the Ukrainian Navy and in 2000, it was reported that it then transferred to Iran, which purchased the animals and trainer to carry on research there, while in 2016, five bottlenose dolphins were purchased by the Russian defence ministry.


Didn’t one Russian dolphin get into bother?

The spotlight landed on Russia's navy marine mammal projects in 2019 when a tame Beluga whale turned up in Norway, suspected of escaping a Russian navy training programme as he was wearing a Russian harness which had a camera mount and clips with the inscription "Equipment St. Petersburg”.



An investigation by Norway's domestic intelligence agency concluded "the whale is likely to have been part of a Russian research programme”. Retired Russian colonel, Viktor Baranets, told Reuters news agency he had been informed that the scientists in Russia's north were "using beluga whales for tasks of civil information gathering, rather than military tasks”.


As for the future?

Mr Sutton said it won’t be the last we hear of dolphins undercover, adding: “Possibly over time more evidence or reports will emerge. Watch this space.”