Sunday 17 December 2017

Warning about dangers of playing with 'friendly' dolphins

Fungi the dolphin
Fungi the dolphin

Lynne Kelleher

A leading marine biologist has urged swimmers not to enter the water with the country's friendly dolphins – for the safety of the much-loved marine mammals.

In the new, stunning RTE series, Ireland's Ocean, Dr Simon Berrow from the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group said research has shown that eight out of 10 of sociable solitary dolphins who interact with humans end up dead or injured.

He also said Ireland has a "disproportionally high" number of friendly dolphins, with Fungi the most famous, while Dusty in Clare has also become a household name and a new dolphin called Clet has arrived in west Cork in recent weeks.

"It is a strange phenomenon. For it to happen you need to have a combination of the right species of dolphin, friendly and used to humans, hanging around an area and then people who are prepared to put the time and effort," he said in the four-part RTE documentary on the country's marine life.

"People are creating these friendly dolphins and there are consequences to their actions. We've got one now just arrived in west Cork called Clet. She came from England and was previously in France."

Although there is a perception that dolphins are gentle and fun-loving, he said male bottlenose dolphins have been known to kill calves and the mammals engage in rough play in the water which could unintentionally harm human swimmers.

He said: "We have a lot to learn and we need to lose our preconceptions (about dolphins). Some of it might be quite shocking to a lot of people.

"Friendly dolphins have killed people, they have broken ribs, broken arms. Dolphins are battering each other all the time so the dolphin gives a bit of a flick of the tail or a head butt and there is not a bother. They are used to it. If you do that to a human you will cause damage."

Dusty the dolphin has been involved in a number of incidents with members of the public in recent times in Co Clare – with at least two people being hospitalised after swimming with her. Ireland's Ocean shows footage of the female dolphin aggressively slapping her tail near swimmers in the waters off Doolin in Co Clare.

Dr Berrow, who is executive officer with the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, said friendly dolphins around the world have ended up suffering when humans start getting injured in encounters with them.

He said: "Often when dolphins start becoming aggressive to humans that is when action is taken. Sometimes they are shot, sometimes they are driven out.

"The friendly solitary dolphins are around the world and in most cases, in 80 per cent of cases, it ends badly for the dolphin. They are either killed, hit by boats, caught in nets, shot. The evidence worldwide suggests it will end badly for the dolphin. It's quite well documented."

He said there is a lot of concern on the island of Inisheer where the dolphin has been swimming for the past two months about the possible dangers to young swimmers.

"Dusty is causing a lot of concern out in Inisheer. There is only one beach in Inisheer. If Dusty comes along and hits young people with the same ferocity that she hit adults last year in Doolin you are talking serious stuff.

"We have to talk to the people on the island and see what the options are open to them.

"It's a big issue and it's been created by the dolphin swimmers. The problem is managing people but wildlife suffers at the hands of the selfish people. It's a shame. She is an amazing dolphin.

"People shouldn't swim with her because at the end of the day the dolphin will suffer."

Ireland's Ocean will be shown on RTE One tonight at 6.30pm.

Sunday Independent

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