Wild, sociable bottlenose dolphins
Many people think that lone, sociable dolphins are unusual and maybe a freak of nature. In actually fact there are hundreds of reports of such incidences and many, many more will have gone unrecorded. Recently there were four such dolphins in Ireland at the same time, all bottlenose, two in Co Kerry (Dingle and Dunquin) and one each in Co Clare (Fanore) and Galway (Aran Islands). Why do these dolphins seem to seek out human company and how should we react ?
In order for such incidences to occur both dolphin and human must come into contact. There may be many bays and reefs with lone dolphins but if these are not frequented by people then such encounters will not occur. Why these dolphins, especially immature dolphins, are generally alone and not in a social group is a mystery.
Fishers are often the first to report lone dolphins in an area and this may go largely unnoticed to others for years. If people enter get the water with these animals, and especially if they touch them this seems to quickly break a certain barrier and the association changes fundamentally.
Dolphins live in social groups, often dominated by a matriarchal female. A dolphin swimming with people, especially young animals like the Dunquin and Fanore dolphins, will try and determine their position in this new hierarchy. This may explain much of the boisterous activity, including head butts and jaw snapping. Old animals such as the Dingle dolphin seem to behave less aggressively.
A recent report documenting over 150 incidences of swimming with dolphins, shows there is great risk to the dolphins (as well as the humans; first documented killing of a person by dolphins was in 1994) from this association with many dolphins being injured and killed.
Ideally you would discourage people from swimming with dolphins, and especially touching them as this reinforces their aberrant behaviour. However if this does occur then a few simple guidelines will help minimise the potentially damaging effects. No attempt should be made to provision dolphins with food, try not to touch the blowhole or grab the dorsal fin or flukes even if presented to you.
Ultimately people should respect dolphins as wild animals, and appreciate the opportunities to admire them close up. However they are wild animals and will defend themselves and there resources. Every action has a consequence, we can make it positive or negative, the choice is each one of ours.
For more information see www.irishdolphins.com.
The Bottlenose Dolphin
Wild, Sociable Bottlenose Dolphins
Frequently Asked Questions
Whale & Dolphin Roadshow
Wildlife in the Region