The Dangers of Dolphin Encounters
The Amazing Reputation of Dolphins
Dolphins (and to an extent their relatives, the smaller porpoises and the much larger orcas that are sometimes, inaccurately, called killer whales) have an amazing reputation.
Dolphins have been observed and recorded helping stranded whales find their way back to sea. As yet, we do not know why they engage in this behavior...are they getting something out of the whales?
Over the centuries there have been many, many documented incidents of dolphins saving humans. Dolphins have been observed getting between human swimmers and sharks and have also pushed and guided people back to shore. Just as they guide the whales back to the deep water so they seem to know that humans belong on land.
Dolphins often follow ships and will sometimes, as in the photo below, ride a ship's bow wave in order to save energy. Even wild dolphins have been seen showing off for the benefit of nearby humans and humans in the water near them may find themselves thoroughly investigates.
Also, dolphins are at least as intelligent as the great apes and have a highly developed social structure.
So, why am I talking about dangers from dolphins?
Dangers from Captive Dolphins
Parks that allow people to swim with dolphins take many precautions. Swimmers are always kept close to the edge and the trainers are always in the water with them.
Very strict instructions are given as to whether and where to pet dolphins.
This is enough to indicate that captive dolphins can be dangerous. Sometimes, the danger is inadvertent. Captive bred and trained dolphins may quite simply forget that human beings are a little smaller than they are and can't hold their breath as long. A playful attack or a prank can result in an injured human.
Attacks can also happen when trainers...or visitors...push dolphins too far. One of the common causes is touching or petting a dolphin too close to his or her private parts.
If you intend on going to a park, first check the reputation of the park. They range from excellent operations with highly successful breeding operations and extremely healthy animals to...well. You can imagine. Follow all of the instructions given to you by the trainer and if they tell you to get out of the water do it...right away.
Most dolphin trainers have been nipped or shoved by a dolphin at some point, either in play or because the dolphin was challenging the established hierarchy, as all social animals are prone to do.
Dangers from Wild Dolphins
Dolphins are powerful apex predators about the same size as we are, and not much dumber.
Although there are many stories of dolphins helping humans in distress, there are also many stories of dolphins attacking human swimmers. Because people think of dolphins as these wonderful, intelligent, playful creatures (which they are), sometimes swimmers forget they are wild animals and approach a pod.
It is never a good idea to approach a pod of wild dolphins. The majority of attacks occur for the same two reasons that most wild animals attack - food and babies. Swimmers have been attacked because they have (usually inadvertently) got between a pod and the fish they are hunting or possibly interrupted a fish herding exercise. Attacks also commonly occur if a swimmer approaches a mother with a calf or gets between the two.
One other wrinkle is that dolphins are the only wild animal that has been reported sexually assaulting humans. People have been badly hurt that way.
Do not approach a wild dolphin pod. In some cases they may approach you, in which case you should try to stay on the shore side of the pod (they won't follow you into water that is too shallow with them) and watch them carefully. Stay clear of any young animals.
If you really want to swim with wild dolphins, book a proper trip with a licensed, experienced guide and follow all of his instructions. Even with an expert, though, there is still a slight risk of being injured, deliberately or accidentally, by one of these magnificent animals. However, if you treat them with respect, then they will grant the same to you.