KYIV, Ukraine — "A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes," Mark Twain is said to have remarked. That was certainly true of news about three supposedly lovesick killer dolphins going AWOL from a military training program in Ukraine.
Information about the deadly swimming mammals was first reported by the Russian news agency RIA Novosti, which quoted what it said was a source from Russia's Black Sea fleet base in Sevastopol. The news spread like wildfire, including through The Atlantic and The Huffington Post. (The Atlantic has since issued a correction).
The takeaway: "Watch out if you're in the Black Sea, Ukrainian killer dolphins are on the loose… and in search of mates."
Which would be a great story if it were true. However, locals say it all started with a fake report by the local news portal Sobytia Kryma (Crimean Events), which posted a piece about three armed dolphins escaping from the local ocenarium. It was picked up by RIA Novosti and the rest is history.
"This is absolutely fabricated news," Anatoliy Gorbachev, director of the national Research Center of Ukrainian Armed Forces State Aquarium in Sevastopol, told the Kyiv Post. "There is no way anything like this could happen and all the animals we have are in their places."
Ukraine's defense ministry has also denied the allegations.
The belief in a militarized dolphin program, particularly in an obscure and suspicious country like Ukraine, is supported by the fact that armed forces have indeed experimented with use of the animals in naval warfare.
The closest man's best marine friends came to offensive action, however, was apparently training to blow up underwater bombs.
The Ukrainian killer-dolphin story nevertheless continues to resurface every couple months — and be shot down just as often, as it was by Wired last year. The magazine highlighted such intractable obstacles as teaching the aquatic mammals to distinguish between friend and foe: "Since dolphins cannot discern the difference between enemy and friendly vessels, or enemy and friendly divers and swimmers, it would not be wise to give that kind of decision authority to an animal," the article quoted the United States Navy marine mammal program as stating.
The killer dolphin story isn't the only significant hoax to surface this week, thanks to contemporary media's unfortunate reliance on aggregators and news feeds.
A satirical story by the news parody site The Daily Currant claimed Nobel Prize laureate Paul Krugman amassed huge debts buying Portugese wine and English cloth. That made news on American financial blogs and outlets, including Breitbart.com and Boston.com.
Meanwhile, a new international hoax focuses on soccer. Reports have circulated that Qatar, an Arab Gulf state of fewer than two million citizens, is planning to spend exorbitant sums to create a new "Dream League" of superstar soccer clubs. That was apparently dreamt up by the satirical French soccer news site Les Cahiers du Football.
But at least it didn't report plans to put lasers on players' heads.