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Iran buys kamikaze dolphins

Dolphins trained to kill for the Soviet navy have been sold to Iran - but what they will do in the Persian Gulf is a mystery.

Dolphins and other aquatic mammals were trained by Russian experts to attack warships and enemy frogmen, but when funding for the project ceased, many were moved to a private dolphinarium to perform for tourists.

Their chief trainer, both in military and civilian life, was Boris Zhurid, who began his career as a submariner before graduating from a medical academy.

Starving animals: Earlier this month he sold the entire collection to Iran, because he could no longer afford to feed it.

"If I were a sadist then I could have remained in Sevastopol," Mr Zhurid told the Russian newspaper, Komsomolskaya Pravda.But I cannot bear to see my animals starve ... We're out of medicine, which costs thousands of dollars, and have no more fish or food supplements."

Sevastopol-based journalist, Arkady Volondyn, told the BBC that the biggest problem came during the winter period, when there were no tourists.

In total, 27 animals, including walruses, sea lions, seals, and a white beluga whale, were loaded with the dolphins into a Russian transport aircraft for the journey from Sevastopol, on the Crimean peninsula, in the Black Sea, to the Persian Gulf.

Three cormorants were also among the cargo.

Training: Four of the dolphins and the white whale underwent training with Mr Zhurid at a Pacific naval base, before being transferred to Crimea in 1991.

The animals were trained to attack enemy frogmen with harpoons attached to their backs, or to drag them to the surface to be taken into captivity.

They could also undertake kamikaze strikes against enemy shipping carrying mines that would explode a ship on contact with its hull.

The dolphins could allegedly distinguish foreign and Soviet submarines by the sound of their propeller.

According to research by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, numerous ex-Soviet military dolphins have been sold to aquariums around the world.

Many have been kept in poor conditions on arrival, and others have died en route.

But Mr Zhurid said Iran had built a new oceanarium to his specification, and that he would be continuing his scientific research there.

Mercenaries: Komsomolskaya Pravda points out that Mr Zhurid's research was primarily of a military nature, and describes the dolphins as "mercenaries".

"In essence, Iran has bought our former secret weapon from Ukraine on the cheap," the Russian newspaper wrote.

It also pointed out that the USA has in the past raised objections to some Russian military sales to Iran.

Mr Zhurid remained vague on the role he and the animals would play, but he said: "I am prepared to go to Allah, or even to the devil, as long as my animals will be OK there."