Friday, September 08, 2006

Dolphin not aggressive but seeking company desperately

Further to your article about a fierce bottlenose dolphin on the French coast, it is important to appreciate that this is an animal that has been habituated to human company and that he is actually trying to play and not to hurt anyone.

There are several similar solitary dolphins in Europe at this time that have become partly tamed by human contact - for example people swimming with them or feeding them - and this means that they lose their natural fear of people, start to seek human company and, unfortunately, often get themselves into serious trouble.

This seems to be a growing problem world-wide - perhaps because we are increasingly invading the dolphin's environment - and at the end of last year, WDCS, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, ran an international workshop of experts to review the issue.

What became clear was that these tamed solitary dolphins are often wounded and frequently killed by human activities, notably propeller strikes, and that each individual tends to present different problems.

We have been following the situation with the French dolphin, known as Jean Floch, closely and consulting with local experts. He is particularly fond of playing with boat oars. Indeed he sometimes swims away with them, which can be infuriating for boaters.

He is certainly unpopular with local fishermen. His aggressiveness is, however, being grossly exaggerated. He is not attacking anyone; he is just seeking social contact.

Nonetheless, there is clearly a problem and his robust activities focused in a small French bay, which have been welcomed by many, including the many tourists who flocked to see him, are presenting a difficult management issue.

There are already calls for him to be shot, despite the fact that bottlenose dolphins are now quite a rare and highly protected species in Europe, and we fear that someone may soon take the law into their own hands.

The main lesson here is that it is important not to tame animals like this, but to admire them from a distance, not close up.

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"