Dolphin shows ‘aggression’ towards swimmers

SWIMMERS have been advised to keep clear of a dolphin showing increasing signs of aggressive behaviour.

Some of those taking a plunge with ‘Dusty’, a bottlenose dolphin in Co Clare, have reported incidents of being rammed at speed, being coaxed into deeper water, butted in the ribs and being pinned to the seabed for long periods.

Urging people to show respect to the dolphin, most locals believe she is trying to give people a playful fright.

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG), however, warned that without trained cetacean biologists witnessing such incidents, it was not possible to interpret the 10ft-long mammal’s behaviour.

“It could simply be her idea of play,” the group’s secretary Pádraig Whooley said.

The IWDG, he said, received a steady stream of first hand accounts of the dolphin interacting aggressively with swimmers. The dolphin has been in the Doolin-Fanore area for the past four years.

“Thankfully, there have been no serious injuries but we feel the public need to be alerted to the potential risks involved in swimming with this large and powerful marine mammal,” he said.

Mr Whooley said the public should be aware dolphins are among the oceans’ top predators.

“Indeed, far from being the cute, cuddly and social mammals often wrongly depicted, dolphins have a sinister side, one which we might rather forget.

“The incidents of their killing the much smaller harbour porpoise is now well documented,” he said.

A so-called “friendly” bottlenose dolphin, he said, attacked and killed a swimmer and seriously injured others in Brazil ten years ago.

“There are suggestions the Fanore dolphin reacts quite strongly to people bringing objects into the water, such as floating devices, and some attacks have been precipitated by two swimmers exchanging a mask and snorkel. It is possible that the dolphin has learnt to interpret these objects as hers and does not like when they are not used to play with her,” Mr Whooley said.

“Our strongest advice is that people do not swim with the dolphin, which is much larger than them and at least twice if not three times their body weight.”

He added: “In her defence she may not actually be attacking swimmers because, if she was intent on doing so, it’s unlikely the swimmer would survive. This is neither a ‘people’ nor a ‘dolphin’ problem, but a combination of the two.”

The IWDG this weekend holds its first international whale conference, Míol Mór 2004, at Rosscarbery in west Cork. The conference, featuring leading authorities on fin and humpback whales, will discuss the increasing attraction of mammals to waters off the Cork coast over the past four years.

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