It could be the antics of bubble-blowing divers, but it seems it is only misfit loner dolphins and the odd pod which get as big a kick out of divers as we do from them. John Bantin, with help from John Liddiard and Ralf Åström, sets out to nail the questions surrounding diver-dolphin encounters.
'Let's go and play with those stupid humans in their boats!'
Dolphins love to play with boats. I have often watched them cavorting and leaping at the bow of a rapidly moving oil-tanker - something that would clearly result in collision and death if a human swimmer were to try it. The helmsman might be aware of these antics, but he is not chasing the dolphins. Dolphins seem to like the pressure wave caused by the movement of vessels, and by steering a circular course it is possible to gather greater numbers at the bow. Humans are fascinated by dolphins and boat-users do go looking for dolphin interaction. But some say it isn't fair to 'chase' dolphins in this way. Mark Simmons, Director of Science at the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society has said: 'Similar events on land, for example motor vehicles persistently chasing terrestrial wildlife, would be seen as a scandal.' In saying this, he reveals a complete lack of understanding of the three-dimensional world of the dolphin. Dolphins are not 'terrestrial wildlife'. If a dolphin does not want to play with something at the surface, it simply swims deeper. If it does not want to interact with a boat, it swims away. Those who have never swum beneath the sea with dolphins call this 'disappearing'. If you have seen how fast and manoeuvrable a dolphin is, you will realise just how silly Mr Simmons' notion is. No one denies that dolphins are endangered by humans. Millions are killed by men with nets, and it is sad that dolphins suffer such treatment from their fellow-mammals. But that is another matter. The WDCS report states that: 'Boat-strikes (which could be lethal) may be commonplace and the consequences of harassment are also likely to negatively impact on the long-term survival of dolphin populations.' There is little evidence of boat-strikes taking place. Dolphins are not children playing with the traffic; they play with boats worldwide and the seas would be littered with casualties if that was the case. I have seen upwards of 1000 dolphins around a boat. They did not collide with it or, more to the point, each other, although each steered its own seemingly erratic course. Eyewitness accounts included in a WDCS report include: 'In the holiday months, every sandy bay seemed to have an armada of private watercraft lying in wait. Once the dolphin showed up, they catalysed for a melee of criss-crossing speedboats and jet-skis.' Imagine the noise. Yes, let's ban speedboats and jet-skis. They are noisy, polluting things and are certainly a danger to other surface-users such as swimmers. This is a case of dolphins encouraging humans to be stupid - never a pretty sight. 'We now watched these fashionable new toys (wetbikes) ploughing at speed through regular feeding areas. Imagine a Harley Davidson doing a spin in your kitchen.' I'm sorry, but the confines of my kitchen and the fact that I am limited to bearing down on its floor area has nothing to do with dolphins and the sea. I'm as much against the irresponsible use of wetbikes as anyone but this idea disparages intelligent dolphins as much as it does Neanderthal wetbike users. The British government has now agreed to legislate against harassment of marine mammals by wetbikers and other water-users (see News). Fine, but remember, dolphins don't particularly like noisy air-blowing divers either, and vote with their flippers! The WDCS wants dolphins to have sanctuary areas from which motor vessels are excluded, and I for one would enjoy swimming in it! But there is a lot of blue on the map and the dolphins can go almost anywhere in it, should they so desire. It is from fisheries that dolphins need protection. Let's not take our eye off that important ball.