North Sailing News
November 28th 2004
Dolphins protect lifeguards from shark attack
A group of lifeguards practising off Ocean Beach near Whangarei on New Zealand´s North Island have recently revealed how they were protected by a pod of bottlenose dolphins. The lifeguards reported that they spent approximately 40 minutes surrounded by the dolphins. It is believed that this altruistic behaviour was due to the presence of a 3 metre great white shark in the area. After herding the lifeguards together the dolphins continually circled around them, becoming more agitated and tail slapping as they went, while the shark approached as close as 2 metres to the swimmers. Eventually, the dolphins managed to ward off the shark and the lifeguards managed to swim the 100 meters safely back to shore.
This is not the first report of such an incident. There have been many stories involving dolphins aiding or rescuing humans from as far back as the 1800s.
Again off the New Zealand coastline, a Risso´s dolphin known locally as Pelorus Jack used to escort ferry steamers in the late 1800s - before he was killed by whalers. Another story came from WDCS´s very own Alexandra Morton, a well respected orca researcher based in Canada. Alex reported that one day she became lost in her boat in thick fog, off the British Columbian coastline. As she became disorientated and worried, a group of orcas whom she recognised from her extensive studies suddenly appeared out of the fog. She decided to follow them across the strait and sure enough after a while they led her out of the fog to safety. Alex is convinced that these orcas deliberately helped to rescue her!
Considering that over the centuries we have hunted whales and dolphins without pity, driving some populations to extinction, and that they still face a catalogue of man-made threats today (whaling/ captures for aquariums/ noise and chemical pollution/ entanglement in fishing nets and much more), it is deeply moving - even humbling to think that dolphins will protect us in this way.
Did you know that dolphins have huge complex brains - bigger than our own? That they have the ability to teach successive generations complex habits? For example, the Patagonian orcas, against instinct, beach themselves in order to catch sea lions on the shore.
It is hard to know why dolphins continue to aid us in this way. It is believed that their natural instinct to protect their young and others in their group may be a contributing factor.
For more up to date fascinating facts on the whales and dolphins - why not purchase the brand new book "Whales & Dolphins of the World" - by WDCS´s International Director of Science, Mark Simmonds? This fantastic book with many interesting facts including a section on dolphins helping humans has just been published and is now available from Phinz.
This story is taken from www.wdcs.co.uk
White beaked dolphins off the coast of Húsavík, North Iceland.
photo: Heimir Harðarson