Insistent Dolphin Highlights Downside of Interaction With Humans

July 27, 2009 03:30 PM
by Anita Gutierrez-Folch
A New Zealand woman panicked after swimming with a friendly dolphin who prevented her from returning to shore, illustrating the dangers of human-dolphin interaction.

Dolphin Endangers Woman

A woman who prefers to remain anonymous proved that swimming with dolphins is not all fun and games. After playing in the water with a dolphin locally known as Moko at Mahia Beach on the North Island of New Zealand, the woman grew tired. When she tried to return to shore, Moko kept playing, eventually stranding the exhausted woman in the cold, wintry waters. “[T]he dolphin had meant no harm,” the woman told the BBC.

Patrons at a nearby cafe heard her screaming for help, and set out to rescue her in a rowboat, finding her “exhausted and extremely cold, clinging to a buoy,” the BBC reports. 

"We were playing around for a while but then when I wanted to go back in, he just wanted to keep playing,” she told the BBC. “I became exhausted and started to panic.” According to area residents, Moko, a friendly three-year-old bottlenose dolphin, gets “lonely and bored” in the winter when fewer tourists and swimmers play with him. As a result, he was overly eager to secure a new playmate.

Background: Twofold dangers of human and dolphin interaction

New Zealand scientists are worried about Moko’s well-being, and the negative effects that may come from his prolonged interaction with humans, the BBC reports. Their recent studies found that “he had been scarred by boats and a fish hook.” Scientists suggest that this is nothing unusual: of the 30 “lone” dolphins known around the world, “14 had already been injured or had died as a result of their interaction with humans.” As the BBC explains, lone dolphins abandon their dolphin families, which can range from 2 to 25 dolphins, and actively seek the company of humans instead.

Some dolphins aren’t as harmless and playful as Moko. In 2002, the BBC reported on George, a lone dolphin living in the British seaside town of Weymouth. George was “reported to have hospitalised two adults, bitten several children, as well as pushing a young swimmer out to sea.”

Similarly, Tiao, a regular visitor to the beach of Caraguatatuba on Brazil’s South Coast, soon grew tired of the excessive attention he got from bathers, who consistently tried to “hitch a lift on his back or grab on to his dorsal fin.” According to the BBC, Tiao’s violent reactions left 29 swimmers injured and one dead, earning him the name of “killer dolphin.”

Related Topic: Dolphins to aid the Navy in antiterrorism fight

In 2007, the U.S. Navy announced plans to use mammals such as dolphins and sea lions to prevent waterborne terrorist attacks, despite objections from animal rights groups who consider the practice to be dangerous and ineffective. As many as 30 sea lions and dolphins could be employed by the Navy Marine Mammal Program to detect and apprehend terrorists in the Puget Sound off the coast of Washington state. If used, the animals will be tasked with detecting underwater mines and even handcuffing suspicious divers. 

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines