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Dolphin Drone: A Military Thriller

Dolphin Drone: A Military Thriller

by James Ottar Grundvig


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A taught, high-concept thriller that humanizes the men and women behind military espionage.

James Grundvig’s Dolphin Drone takes us into the complex underworld of global terrorism with razor-sharp plot twists, remarkable characters, and fascinating insight into the technological advancements of the US Navy.

Using dolphin sonar-tracking technology, Ex-Navy SEAL Merk Toten stumbles of freshly laid Iranian sea mines while conducting surveillance on two US ships that were hijacked by Somali pirates on the Strait of Hormuz. This discovery occurs on the same day that a fake intelligence report draws three US drones away from the Persian Gulf. Toten investigates the parallel events to uncover a new super-terrorist group made up of a network of Somali warlords, Islamic assailants, Yemen-based terrorists, and ISIS sympathizers.

When Merk Toten and the beautiful CIA Operative Jenny Myung King discover a plot by this new terrorist organization to bomb New York Harbor, the duo must race against the clock to stop the devastating attack.

Dolphin Drone is a tense thriller that combines cutting-edge marine technology, high-stakes undercover operations, and complex and frightening political underpinnings.

Skyhorse Publishing, as well as our Arcade, Yucca, and Good Books imprints, are proud to publish a broad range of books for readers interested in fiction—novels, novellas, political and medical thrillers, comedy, satire, historical fiction, romance, erotic and love stories, mystery, classic literature, folklore and mythology, literary classics including Shakespeare, Dumas, Wilde, Cather, and much more. While not every title we publish becomes a New York Times bestseller or a national bestseller, we are committed to books on subjects that are sometimes overlooked and to authors whose work might not otherwise find a home.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781510709317
Publisher: Skyhorse
Publication date: 09/27/2016
Pages: 344
Sales rank: 296,342
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

James Grundvig is a freelance journalist who has published in the Huffington Post, Financial Times Foreign Direct Investment magazine,, the Epoch Times, among other media outlets. His investigative work uncovered toxic dispersants used in the BP oil spill that “sank” the oil in a black carpet at the bottom of the gulf, Europe’s failure to combat domestic terrorism, and how big data and sensors are creating the “smart cities” of tomorrow. James’ Norwegian heritage, steeped in shipping and offshore oil and gas sectors, has instilled a lifelong fondness for the sea and appreciation of marine life. He lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt


CHILL BIT Merk Toten's neck and shot down his left arm under the wet suit sleeve. It tingled, igniting a swarm of tremors in his wrist. He snapped his hand to shake it off, but couldn't. The shaking arose at the worst possible time; and his timing, he knew from the past, was piss-poor.

He wondered, why the weakness had appeared then? At that exact moment? Why at dusk? Why on a mission, kneeling in a two-man rubber boat in the Strait of Hormuz with no arms, exit strategy, or backup plan? Three CIA drones had been retasked to Yemen, while the SEALs deployed two Mark V assault boats in a defensive posture several klicks back outside the ports of Oman. That bothered him.

Irritated, Merk stilled his hand strumming his fingers on the gunwale. The RHIB — rigid-hulled inflatable boat — painted black like the accessories on board, sat camouflaged in the charcoal waters. What light remained came from the laptop. He peered out into the darkness, adjusting his eyes.

Farther up the strait, Merk saw a seam where the black water fused with the darker sky. He fixed his eyes on that seam and waited, thinking about the underwater survey he had planned for months: A pair of elite navy dolphins that he had trained for a year, dove down in the strait mapping Iran's new subsea pipeline. When built, the oil conduit would stretch across the thirty-five-mile-wide strait to Khasab Port in Oman.

What concerned him was being exposed in the dark sea. Any glint of light would become a liability for the US Navy "dolphin whisperer." So Merk closed the laptop. In doing so, he broke off his ability to communicate with the dolphins roaming the seafloor. Sure, he could recall them by dipping a sonar-whistle in the water to summon them by their birth names — whistles given to a calf rising to the surface to breathe its first breath — but that wasn't the same as having an open two-way channel to com with them.

Just as quickly as the tremors weakened his wrist, his senses flooded with dread: the chugging of a motor alerted him to the presence of another vessel — garrulous and throaty at first, then growing louder ... until a green and white fishing trawler breached the black veil of night. The bow lurched forward, slicing the sea open like a zipper. The sight of the vessel punched Merk in the gut. He wondered why a trawler cruised through the strait at that late hour. He glanced at his teammate, Morgan Azar, an African American Special Forces biologist and veterinarian. Azar mouthed, What's that doing here? Merk shrugged. Lt. Azar swiped through intel reports on a tablet, trying to figure out how the trawler managed to evade the Office of Naval Intelligence's surveillance net. "Nothing comes up," he whispered.

"Must be Iranian. It's the same green and white as their flag," Merk said.

Azar read an ONI note: "Satellites tracked two fleets of fishing boats leaving port at 1400 and 1600 zulu. The last fleet passed through more than three hours ago."

"At sea?" Merk looked down the strait, scratching the greasepaint on his cheek. Miffed, he turned to the trawler, trying to figure out how it became a straggler. Was it delayed because of a crew issue? Did it have engine trouble? Whatever the reason, Merk and Azar crouched behind the gunwale, holding fast as the ship's waves rolled toward them, watching the fishermen start to unfold piles of nets across the deck.

Merk dialed into a mental checklist, ticking off items he had prepared for the mission. He had painted or taped all of the accessories in the RHIB black. Or did he? He ran through the list: plastic-clad laptop, beacons, flashlights, scuba gear, flare gun, and first aid kit. Check. He had smeared his face with black greasepaint. Check. He wiggled his digits in the fingerless gloves and pressed them against the inflated bow. In darkness, he and Azar should be invisible.

The first wave surged the rubber boat. The second wave bobbed it up and down. A third swell rocked the RHIB sideways. Merk eyed Azar, who pointed with his eyes back to the trawler. Merk looked over. The fishing ship slowed down hard, plowing bow waves as it lurched into a drift. Did the crew spot them? Did they sense something?

"Why are they slowing down right over my fins?" Merk clenched his hands into fists.

"Did they pick up a stray acoustical signal?" Morgan Azar asked.

"How could they? The laptop is closed." He tapped the device.

"What about a fishfinder?" Azar queried, watching the trawler.

"Something's not right." Merk flashed two and then five fingers, signaling Lt. Azar that the Pacific bottlenose dolphins would stay underwater longer without coming up for air. The hand-sign meant another five to seven minutes, or twice the normal dive time for the sea mammals to surface and breathe.

Eyeing the trawler, Merk recalled that kind of long, tense wait from before — exposed in enemy territory with no exit. Only the last time, it was off the coast of China a decade ago. That neuro-association prickled his fingertips; he felt his heartbeat pulse in his wet suit.

* * *

Scanning the bottom of the seafloor a half-klick south, the navy dolphins swam down to a depth of thirty meters. They were contouring the layout of the gas pipeline that would one day deliver crude oil from Iran's South Pars Phase-12 offshore platform to Oman's refineries.

* * *

As the trawler drifted away, Merk opened the laptop and swiped the glidepad. The laptop cam biometrically scanned the whites of his eyes to access the software. He looked up at the ship, drifting, slowing; his fingers hovered above the color-coded keyboard. The yellow key sent a signal packet in the cetaceans' language up to a military satellite that beamed the data back down to a DPod — a dolphin communication pod — bobbing on the surface.

The black, hockey puck–shaped DPod converted the data stream into digital whistles. Radio waves don't travel well in saltwater. Like a submarine that deploys an antenna or buoy on the surface to enhance communication, Merk deployed the DPod to better stream video captured underwater by the dolphins' dorsalcams.

Merk watched the screen and hit a second blue key, commanding the dolphins to conduct a swim-by of the trawler, and to breathe.

Lt. Azar zoomed night-vision binoculars on the trawler's waterline and saw it was fully laden. He signaled to Merk that the fishermen weren't heading to the Gulf of Oman to fish — not loaded with cargo, not at one knot. Something was up in the vessel, he agreed. But what? Another sign that the ship wasn't bound for the fishing shoals could be seen by the naked eye: a pair of telescopic boom cranes — "rabbit ears," Azar called them — were folded upright with not a single net attached to either hook.

The signal mast swayed back and forth. The low rumble of the engine ground to a halt. The ship drifted into position ready to perform its task.

"Let's cut and run," Azar said.


"Merk, let's abort. Play it safe."

Merk refused, shaking his head. "We have to see what they're up to."

"We came here to collect data. You got it. Let's bolt. The fins are at risk as much as we are," Azar said, stabbing a finger in Merk's chest.

Merk stared at him.

"You wanted this mission with no guns, no weapons. You got it. But not in a trade-off for the lives of the dolphins."


WITH DOUBT RUNNING through his mind, de-encrypted pictures began to stream from the dolphins' underwater survey. Merk opened a dozen photos on a split screen. Infrared images showed not a pipeline, but its layout across the seabed. Concrete anchors with glow-sticks marked the trail. He turned the laptop around and showed the digital images to Morgan Azar.

"Shit hot. You got what we came for," Azar said, tapping the laptop.

"Negative. We need to find out what that ship is up to."

"Toten, pull out, goddamn it. Abort. You sound like you're still a SEAL. You left spec warfare for a saner job in the Navy Marine Mammal Program. Remember?" "The survey has changed," he said, pointing to the colored keys. He raised a finger over the red abort key, and looked him dead in the eye: "Remember the chlorine gas. First Syria, now ISIS is using it against the Kurds."

"You and I are like the dolphins you've trained. We follow orders. Fall in line. Keep the chain of command intact. There's nothing for us here to improvise."

Merk ignored Azar, focusing a pair of night-vision binoculars, panning across the sea to recon the vessel. He zoomed in on the cargo buried beneath the nets, but couldn't identify what the fishermen were hiding. Fed up with arguing, Lt. Azar counted the number of men on board — eleven, about double the crew for a trawler that size, with another three to five, he figured, in the cabin.

The high-tech binoculars allowed both men to capture digital images of what they saw and relay them in real-time to SEAL Team Three command at the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Gulf Coordinating Council in Qatar; to CENTCOM in Tampa, Florida; and to a team of CIA analysts in Langley, Virginia.

"You and I know the CIA doesn't have a single asset in Iran to ID the cargo," Merk said.

Lt. Azar lowered the binoculars, and said, "That's not our mission. You know we're naked out here." He sat by the outboard motor, waiting for the signal to start the engine. Merk dipped a sonar-whistle in the water; it pinged the dolphins' name-whistles, calling them.

A few minutes later, one bottlenose dolphin surfaced, clearing its blowhole in a jet of spray and pinched a breath of air. Merk saw a shark bite on the dorsal fin and knew he was looking at Tasi, the female dolphin in the pod. Inapo, the other Hawaiian bottlenose dolphin, a 550-pound male, breached the surface alongside Tasi.

Merk waved them over. He checked the micro dorsalcams on both biologic systems and then inspected the GPS tags clipped to the base of their dorsal fins. He double-checked the tags to see if a mobile app worked on the tablet. The mobile device showed a split screen of the dolphins with their geocoords; the infrared shots of the dorsalcams captured a part of Merk's face — or what he called a "hot selfie" for the thermal heat it picked up of his jaw and cheeks.

Merk fitted a sensor with a float tied to a short cord over Tasi's rostrum. He flashed a hand-sign; the dolphin dipped below the surface flowing over to the trawler.

Inapo rose and pecked Merk on the lips. He petted the mammal and mounted a sensor device over the rostrum. With a slashing sign, the dolphin darted away to sweep under the vessel and tag the hull with a GPS tracker. Both the CIA and navy brass in the Pentagon would be privy to know where the fishing ship was heading — out to sea or back to port.

Merk waited another minute for the dolphins to get in position. He glanced back at Azar, gave a "now" look. The lieutenant started the motor, turned the throttle, and glided out to close on the slow-moving ship. As Azar steered the craft off the starboard flank of the trawler, Merk swiped the tablet awake. He tracked the dolphins' movements onscreen: virtual blinking fins moved in real time, their positions triangulating every few seconds by a trio of military satellites.

Merk opened Dolphin Code, the intra-species software he invented with DARPA scientists and engineers. In communicating with the dolphins digitally, the software collected the data and stored it in the navy's "Blue Cloud." The color-coded program allowed Merk to press a single key or a series of keys to give the mammals up to 100 different goals, tasks, or commands to carry out in their vocalizations of trills and whistles.

With a swipe of a finger, Merk uploaded the radar tracker on the fishing trawler and superimposed it over the geospatial map of the Strait of Hormuz. That allowed him to monitor the dolphins' progress in shadowing the vessel. He lifted the binoculars and zoomed on the lights of the trawler that dimmed near blackout ... a couple of fishermen slid open the stern gate ... other men pulled the nets off the hidden cargo, revealing iron spheres with contact spikes. Merk signaled to Azar that the fishermen were going to drop sea-mines into the strait. And yet, the articulating arms of the cranes never swiveled into position to perform the task; the mines were being deployed by another on-deck method.

The fishermen walked the lead anchors with a mooring cable off the back of the ship. Once the anchor slid out the gate, it pulled the mine into the water in a splash, and the mine disappeared in a carpet of foam. The operation told Merk that the Iranians were using a rail system mounted on the deck to slide the mines, an offloading method quicker than using the cranes.

Another quarter klick south, the fishermen planted the next two mines, one after the other sinking below the surface. The fishermen pulled the nets off the last piles, revealing four more sea-mines. The ship slowed in a drift, giving the crew time to set the mines in a cluster. When the next pair of mines dropped into the strait, Merk saw the ship's waterline rise above the surface.

Lt. Azar cut the engine and let the RHIB glide. He paddled the craft by oar close enough to observe, far enough away to remain out of sight.

Merk pressed a Dolphin Code key, ordering Tasi to plant the float on a mine, and said to Azar, "Tasi is going to tag a mine for the admirals. The Pentagon needs this intel."

Trailing in the wake of the fishing ship, Tasi received the signal via a transponder chip embedded behind her melon. The dolphin pinched a breath of air and dove under.

On the laptop, Merk watched Tasi plunge below ... diving down ...

He tracked her descent by watching the depth meter rollover as she made her way to the sea-mines. Merk knew the depth of the strait near the tip of Oman was twenty-five meters — about the draft of a fully laden supertanker. Alongside seven islands that Iran controlled in the strait, with an eighth belonging to Oman, the mines were being placed in thirty to fifty meters of water, right in the heart of the shipping lanes. The location of the seamines presented clear evidence of Iran's intent to combat the United States at every turn and opportunity.

"It's the 'Tanker War' all over again," Merk said, referring to the 1980s ship war in the Persian Gulf. Morgan Azar refused to discuss the geopolitics of the past, even though nothing had changed in nearly half a century.

* * *

TASI DOVE TO the bottom ... echolocating to get a fix on the depth of the seafloor.

The last mine's anchor landed nearby in a muted thud.

The sound told her she was close to the mines ...

In the darkness, Tasi swam past the cluster, pulsing the mooring cables attached to the buoyant mines, while steering clear of touching the contact spikes.


ON THE FISHING vessel, an armed guard paced around the deck. Off the starboard, he glimpsed the dolphin Inapo surfacing alongside the ship, taking a breath, spying on the guards.

A glint on the dorsalcam lit up when the guard shined a flashlight. Another guard swung an AK-47 assault rifle, training it on the creature. He opened fire. The shots ripped the surface of the water just as Inapo dove under. The gunfire stirred other guards to spread around the vessel and search the water off the trawler for the navy dolphin.

One guard scouted the darkness beyond the stern. He saw the silhouette of the rubber boat. He pointed into the night, trying to get a fix on the target, panning the water with a flashlight. Several guards moved to the stern and took aim with rifles.

At the bow, a guard pounded on the cabin, alerting the captain about the intruder.

From the RHIB, Merk and Azar watched the commotion of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards on the ship. A trio pulled a canvas off an inflatable boat with an outboard motor, dragged the craft to the gate, and pushed it into the sea.

"They marked us," Merk said, as Azar cranked on the engine. Merk looked at the open water behind them and knew that if they fled toward Oman the Iranian pursuit boat would catch them. He opened a box and handed a flare gun to Azar, and then took over the outboard motor and gunned it. Merk steered the RHIB not away, but toward the trawler. Azar didn't like the risky move. The RHIB boomed across the sea at a speed that earned the SEAL nickname "boghammer."

The Iranian pursuit boat sped toward them. One guard opened fire; another unloaded a staccato burst.

Azar ducked, while Merk stayed low with bullets zipping overhead. Azar released the safety latch on the flare gun, aimed with the RHIB zeroing in ... Merk swept the boat in a wide arc ... swerved out in an S-curve ... and then cut back hard to intercept the path of the pursuit boat. He gunned the engine. Azar fired the flare —

The hot green pellet shot in a comet trail and burst when it struck the gunwale, tumbling in a flash across the pursuit boat, ricocheting off the motorman into the sea. Blinded by the flare, the Iranians couldn't relocate the RHIB ... Merk bore down on them ... and rammed the bow of the pursuit boat at an angle. The impact tossed a guard about as he fired wildly. A bullet struck Morgan Azar above the chest, knocking him off balance. He lurched to the side, tipping over ...


Excerpted from "Dolphin Drone"
by .
Copyright © 2016 James Grundvig.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Dolphin Drone: A Military Thriller 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Couldn’t put the book down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Couldn't put it down. Lots of action & cool info. Loved it. I need more.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Some places used were incorrect. Seal team two is not based In Little Creek Va. For example.