Status: Highly Doubtful
I've received a lot of emails about a story in The Observer
a few days ago alleging that thirty-six dolphins "trained by the US military to shoot terrorists and pinpoint spies underwater" and "carrying 'toxic dart' guns" were swept out of their tanks by Hurricane Katrina and are now at large in the Gulf of Mexico. This story is very doubtful for a number of reasons.
First, it seems to be a wild rumor inspired by the true report
that eight bottlenose dolphins were washed out of their marina by Katrina, but were later recovered. Second, The Observer's story relies entirely upon one source, a "respected accident investigator" named Leo Sheridan. But as The Register
points out, Mr. Sheridan has been the source for many dubious conspiracy-style claims in the past.
In 2003 he told The Guardian
that he didn't believe the official explanation that the English aviator Amy Johnson's plane crashed in 1941 because it ran out of fuel. He believed she had been shot down.
In 1998 he told the Observer the cause of death of 22 dolphins found washed up on the shore in southern France was that "'these were dolphins trained by the US navy, and that something went badly wrong... They were disposed of to conceal the existence of the American's military dolphin programme.' According to Mr Sheridan, the United States navy launched a classified programme, the Cetacean Intelligence Mission, in San Diego in 1989 with the approval of President George Bush. The dolphins, fitted with harnesses around their necks and with small electrodes planted under their skin, were taught first to patrol and protect Trident submarines in harbour and stationary warships at sea."
And in 1991 The Observer used him as the source for a story about crop circles: "Britain's crop circles are caused by squabbling birds marking out their feeding territory, says environmental investigator Leo Sheridan. 'Each morning birds that feed off the crops, such as starlings and sparrows, squabble over their patch of field,' he says. 'The birds sometimes two or three hundred of them whirl round in circles close to the top of the crops, flattening them with the action of their wings as they fight each other for a patch of field.' Mr Sheridan, who is employed by aviation authorities to investigate atmospheric and environmental influences on air disasters, claims he has witnessed the phenomenon in Devon and Cornwall."
In other words, Leo Sheridan is The Observer's resident crackpot-on-call. They must phone him up whenever they want to add a bit of drama or weirdness to their stories.
Further discrediting the story is the US Navy's insistence
that it has never trained dolphins for attack missions. The dolphins are only trained to locate suspicious objects. Not to destroy them.