Are Dolphins Dangerous? – Do They Attack Humans? 

Dolphin playing with a human and doesn't seem dangerous

Despite their popularity as cute, friendly, and playful sea creatures, many are still wondering if dolphins are dangerous and if they ever attack humans.

Dolphins are wild animals and can act defensively if threatened. In this article, we’ll explore real-life dolphin attacks, understand why they occur, and learn how to safely interact with these incredible marine mammals.

Are Dolphins Generally Dangerous to Humans?

Woman petting a dolphin

In general, dolphins are not considered dangerous to humans. In fact, many people find interactions with them to be delightful and memorable experiences. 

Although dolphins are famous for their smart and friendly behavior, there have been rare occasions when they have shown aggression towards people.

These incidents are uncommon, but there are recorded instances of dolphins attacking humans, resulting in injuries and, in some instances, death.

These marine mammals are known for their intelligence and playful behavior. They also display a curiosity and fondness towards humans. However, just like any wild animal, they can be unpredictable. 

Do Dolphins Attack Humans?

Yes, dolphins have attacked humans before, but such incidents are rare. Most of the time, dolphins are known for being friendly and peaceful with people. 

They often interact with us in a playful manner, showing off their intelligent and friendly nature. However, when they feel threatened, stressed, or provoked, they can exhibit aggressive behavior. 

This aggression can manifest in various ways, including biting, ramming, or chasing people. It’s important to remember that dolphins are wild animals, and their behavior can be unpredictable. 

Here is a news report regarding an incident in which a dolphin went rogue and attacked its trainer:

Dolphin attack trainer during show at Miami Seaquarium

Dolphin Temperament and Personality

Dolphin jumping over a woman

Dolphins are well-known for their playful and smart behavior. In fact, they often rank high among other friendly sea creatures.

They prefer living in groups known as pods, where they use a range of sounds and body movements to talk to each other. This love for social interaction gives them a reputation for being friendly and easy to get along with.

In a fascinating study by Rachel M. Yerbury and William E. Boyd, the researchers checked how interactions with dolphins can significantly impact our well-being. 

They conducted eight detailed interviews with individuals who had profound, close encounters with dolphins. 

Through these conversations, they discovered a common theme: a strong sense of relationship and connection between humans and these marine animals. 

The study revealed that these interactions fulfill our human need for connection, boost our well-being, and even encourage us to act in environmentally friendly ways. 

While many people have had the luck to witness the friendly and pleasant nature of dolphins, it’s important to note that there have also been instances of aggression. 

Has a Dolphin Ever Killed a Human?

Yes, there have been rare cases where interactions with dolphins have resulted in human fatalities. 

One of the most notable incidents occurred in 1994 when a dolphin attacked two swimmers who tried to ride it and tie its tail. This is according to a Los Angeles Times archive

The tragic event took place at a beach in Caraguatatuba, located 200 miles southwest of Rio de Janeiro. The dolphin, known to locals and tourists as “Tiao,” was a popular attraction at the beach. 

Even though experts told everyone to stay back and let the dolphin come to them if it wanted to, two individuals chose to get close and bother Tiao, which made the animal react aggressively.

The dolphin ended up head-butting both of them multiple times. Unfortunately, this attack resulted in the death of one swimmer while the other was left injured.

Real-life Cases of Dolphin Attacks

Group of dolphins under the sea

There have been rare but serious instances where dolphin interactions have taken a dark turn. In this section, we will explore real-life cases of dolphin attacks and examine what we can learn from these incidents.

Dolphin incident at Suishohama Beach, Japan (2023)

At Suishohama Beach in central Japan, four swimmers experienced violent encounters with dolphins. One man in his 60s suffered broken ribs and hand injuries after a dolphin charged at him just a few meters from the shore. 

Another man in his 40s was bitten on his arm in a separate incident at the same location. Later that day, two more people sustained injuries from dolphin attacks. 

This marked the sixth dolphin attack in Fukui Prefecture in 2023 alone. As a result, authorities prompted stricter warnings for swimmers to avoid approaching or touching the mammals.

Dolphin attacks a trainer at Miami Seaquarium (2022)

According to a USA Today report, a dolphin at the Miami Seaquarium attacked a trainer during a performance, resulting in an injury. 

The attack occurred about 10 minutes into the Dolphin Flipper Show, and it was evident from the trainer’s struggle in the water that the interaction with the dolphin was not part of the act. 

The Miami Seaquarium later stated that the trainer accidentally scratched the dolphin, Sundance, causing it pain and leading to the attack. 

Both Sundance and the trainer are reportedly recovering well, but the incident has raised concerns about the safety of the show and the welfare of the animals involved.

10-Year-Old attacked at Dolphin Discovery in Mexico (2019)

In 2019, a 10-year-old British girl experienced a terrifying situation at Dolphin Discovery in Cancun, Mexico, during a ‘swimming with dolphins’ activity. 

The captive dolphins bit her, dragged her underwater, and left her with numerous cuts, bruises, and bite marks. Her mother and the trainers watched in horror as the incident unfolded. 

This alarming event underscores the potential dangers of close contact interactions with dolphins, even in controlled environments.

Dusty the Dolphin incident in Ireland (2013)

In a 2013 news report, Valerie Ryan was swimming off the coast of County Clare, Ireland, when she was attacked by a local dolphin named Dusty. 

Despite Dusty’s usual interactions with humans, the dolphin suddenly became aggressive, leaving Valerie with a fractured spine, broken ribs, and a damaged lung. 

Dolphin bites 8-Year-Old Girl at SeaWorld (2012)

In 2012, an 8-year-old girl had a frightening encounter with a dolphin at SeaWorld during a feeding session. The common bottlenose dolphin, which can have between 80 and 100 sharp teeth, bit the girl, causing immense pain. 

This incident is one of the dozens reported by the Commerce Department’s National Marine Fisheries Service, where dolphins have bitten people, sometimes even dragging them underwater.

It serves as a stark reminder that, despite their friendly appearance, dolphins are wild animals, and their behavior can be hard to predict.

Here’s footage of this dolphin attack as shown in a news report:

Dolphin Bites Child: Orlando Seaworld Dolphin Caught on Tape | Good Morning America | ABC News

Reasons for Dolphin Attacks

Dolphins may attack humans for a variety of reasons. Understanding why these attacks happen can help us interact with dolphins more safely. 

Here are some of the main reasons why dolphins attack humans:

  • Feeling threatened or stressed: Dolphins may attack if they feel threatened, stressed, or violated. This can occur when humans get too close, touch them unexpectedly, or if there is too much human activity around them.
  • Protecting their young: Dolphins are highly protective of their offspring and may become aggressive if they feel like their calves are threatened.
  • Misinterpretation of human actions: Dolphins might misinterpret human actions as threats or aggression, leading to defensive behavior.
  • Illness or injury: A dolphin that is sick or injured may be more likely to lash out due to its vulnerable state.
  • Natural instincts and rough play: Dolphins have natural hunting instincts and are known for their rough play. Sometimes, their playful behavior can be too rough for humans and result in injuries.
  • Loss of fear and competing for food: Dolphins that aren’t afraid of people anymore, especially those who are regularly fed by humans, might start to act aggressively if they don’t get food. This happens a lot in places where people often feed dolphins.

For additional insights into the causes of dolphin attacks, watch the following video featuring an expert on human-dolphin interactions:

The Dark Side of Dolphins | Nat Geo Wild

What Should You Do If You See a Dolphin?

Dolphins swimming in clear waters

Whether you see a dolphin in captivity or in the wild, it’s important to act responsibly. 

In aquariums or marine parks, stay back and follow the facility’s rules. Avoid tapping on the glass or trying to grab the dolphin’s attention to prevent stressing the animal. Instead, use this chance to learn about dolphins.

In controlled environments where swimming with dolphins is allowed, follow all safety guidelines provided by the staff. Remember, dolphins are powerful creatures, and interactions should be handled with caution and respect.

If you encounter wild dolphins, stay at a safe distance and do not attempt to approach or interact with them. Wild dolphins aren’t used to human contact, and getting too close can lead to them being aggressive. 

On a related note, my own curiosity about dolphins and dolphin attacks has led me to a fascinating study. According to this study, researchers have documented 32 solitary dolphins since 2008. 

This includes 27 bottlenose, two striped, three common dolphins, and four belugas. Presently, around ten solitary dolphins and one beluga are known to exist. 

These solitary dolphins often live in areas easily accessible to the public, which means anyone near the shore is likely to see them around.

If you encounter these marine creatures at the beach, stay cautious and keep in mind the unfortunate incidents we’ve covered in this article.

Frequently Asked Questions

Two dolphins swimming side by side

Are Dolphins More Dangerous Than Sharks?

No, dolphins are generally not more dangerous than sharks. Sharks are known to be more aggressive and have more reported attacks on humans compared to dolphins.

Are Dolphins Aggressive to Humans?

Dolphins are not typically aggressive to humans. However, they can become aggressive if their personal space is invaded or if they feel stressed or threatened.

Is It Safe to Swim With Dolphins?

Swimming with dolphins can be safe if done in a controlled environment and under the supervision of trained professionals. It is important to follow all safety guidelines to ensure a safe experience.

Do Dolphins Protect Humans From Sharks?

There have been reports of dolphins protecting humans from sharks, but these instances are rare and not guaranteed. 

However, there is no scientific proof that claims that dolphins are naturally inclined to protect humans from sharks.

Did you learn something new about dolphins? Let us know if you think dolphins are dangerous to humans by leaving a comment below!

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