Are Dolphins Just Not That Into Us?

Justin Gregg considers whether there’s reason to believe in a special dolphin-human bond. On the plus side:

The phenomenon of lone sociable dolphins — for whom human contact appears to substitute for the company of their own kind — is documented extensively in the scientific literature. Among the better-known examples are Pita from Belize, Davina from England, Filippo from Italy, Tião from Brazil, and JoJo from Turks and Caicos. One report from 2003 described 29 lone sociable dolphins that were regularly observed by scientists, and a number of scientific articles have been published since then on new ones. There is no doubt that these animals are exhibiting inquisitive behaviour, which lends weight to the idea that dolphins do in fact seek out human contact with some regularity.

On the other hand:

The marine mammal researcher Toni Frohoff, director of TerraMar Research in California, reported an incident in which dolphins suddenly fled the scene as soon as a shark was spotted, leaving her to fend for herself. There’s even a news report from 2007 of an intoxicated man who was attacked by a group of bottlenose dolphins after falling into the Black Sea in Ukraine. The animals allegedly tried to drown him, prompting the Russian news agency Interfax to declare that they ‘lack the reputation of friendliness and love of humans enjoyed by dolphins in wealthy nations’. Perhaps the homicidal-dolphin phenomenon is more prevalent than we know. As Kathleen Dudzinski, my research supervisor at the Dolphin Communication Project, used to say: ‘You never hear from the people that the dolphins didn’t save.’

Previous Dish on dolphins here, here, here, and here.