Dolphin charged at my kayak

Which law?
I’d be curious to know which law would make it illegal to swim with dolphins. I know they’re covered under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, but as long as you didn’t follow them, feed them, harass them and so on, that law wouldn’t prohibit you from hopping out of a kayak or boat for a swim if some dolphins came around for a visit.

same for any animal (or person)
bottom line is that they are basically benign to people, but any dog, dolphin, human, etc. can feel threatened or be just plain crazy which is why it’s (hopefully) common sense to not overtly reach out or follow closely ANY animal. But given that standard caveat, dolphins are friendly.

Are dolphins friendly? NO
I think there is a risk here in sounding like a know it all. NOT the intent. I too thought they were friendly. But I learned that is what is called attributing human characteristics to animals.

There is risk to us and to them in thinking this way. Here is a marine biologist’s answer to this question are they friendly.

Are they friendly, NO.

Dolphins are quite curious and this is often mistaken for ‘friendliness’. We like dolphins, therefore we think dolphins like us. It’s called anthropomorphising, atrributing human characteristics to non human animals. When looking at orcas, the biggest of the dolphin species, they do seem to be more ‘friendly’ in the wild in the sense that there are nearly no attacks on people in the wild but quite a lot in captivity. This however does not make them a ‘friendly’ animal.


The "cute and cuddly’ image is something often perpetrated by institutions like SeaWorld and shows like Flipper. The truth is, a dolphin is an apex predator, they cannot afford to be ‘sweet and caring’ and they most certainly are not. I don’t know anyone working with dolphins who thinks they are sweet, caring or innocent, most people working with dolphins actually have a quite cynical attitude towards them.

The image arises from misinterpretations of natural behaviour. We like to think dolphins are nice because we think they are cute and beautiful.

A lot of people want to interact with them but it is not advised and in a lot of the world it is prohibited or heavily regulated. The truth is while you may want to interact with dolphins, the dolphins may not want to interact with you!

Interactions with people, popular as they are risky, especially in captivity where dolphins are under a lot of stress, while people like dolphins and like to interact with them, truth is, the dolphins do not necessarily feel the same way! Swim with the dolphin programs and petting programs pose serious risks, there have been not only bites but also broken bones and people being hospitalised.

Male bottlenose dolphins frequently form coalitions to harass females into mating or preventing them from mating with other males:

Bottlenose dolphins harass and kill other dolphin species and porpoises- for no apparent reason as they do not consume them:…

Bottlenose dolphins are also known to commit infanticide, killing bottlenose dolphin calves:

A lot of stories about dolphins ‘saving’ humans can be explained away quite easily, a lot of people talk about them supporting swimmers at the surface, however what these reports usually do not tell you is that dolphins will also support inanimate objects such as mattresses or sharks they have killed themselves, it’s innate, an instinct, it does not neccessarily denote compassion. Dolphins saving people from sharks is mostly the dolphins protecting themselves, in fact a lot of survivors of shark attacks say the first sign they noticed something was wrong was that all the dolphins dissapeared! If a dolphin is given the choice between fleeing and fighting a shark, it will flee. People tried to train dolphins to attack sharks to protect swimmers, needless to say, it failed. It worked fine with harmless shark species such as nurse sharks but as soon as a bull shark was introduced the dolphin desperately tried to escape…

It is however important not to put a value judgement on their behaviour. Their behaviour can not be simply put down as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, most of it fullfills complex biological needs. In the case of captive dolphins it is often simply frustration as captivity seldomly caters for the complex needs of these highly intelligent and wide ranging predators.

Yes there are ‘friendly’ dolphins that seemingly want to interact with people and receive extensive coverage. What usually does not get covered is that is is likely to turn aggressive


I have a degree in Marine Biology and Zoology and am currently doing my MSc. in Animal Behaviour and Welfare

I had hoped that merely following the standard advice for all animals of not trying to reach out or follow closely would help. But if dolphins are more aggressive than that then that’s a problem. I know normally they come to me (often in large pods) and I can’t possible out run them which puts me at risk.

N California Experience
Last fall I was paddling in Trinidad Bay, coast of N California, as part of the paddle fest tours. We weren’t really out in open water, hadn’t even past the land mark I think they called mile rock when one of the other shouted “look at that!” Off near shore was splashing, I could see the white foam from the activity but not the cause. Someone with good distance vision said they were Risso’s Dolphins. I made note of it and kept paddling since I couldn’t see anything.

I went off by myself, past the rock and out to one of the channel markers, turned and headed back in to rejoin the now very splintered group. Then I saw them, six of the creature heading straight at me. I was awestruck, man, this is better than Marine World. Then I realized they were having a great time, leaping out of the water, back in leap, and bearing down on me. I wondered if they were able to see me, I thought probably not and imagined what it would be like if one of them actually jumped over the kayak. Then I realized I had a pretty good chance of being hit as they did.

I took the paddle and slapped the water, making a point to hit the boat with the shaft and made as much noise as possible. They changed their course and missed me, but they were close enough to see the whites of their eyes. Eventually my heart returned to normal.

It was the last of the large pod that had come in close to shore that day. Fishermen who had been there all day said when they first saw the pod it was probably thirty strong and had spent a bit of time close to their boats.

they are a wild animal, and …
…while I’ve had no real contact with them, wild animals in general will react in accordance with their instincts and self-preservation.

Deer, too, are naturally curious animals. And generally they leave people alone after a quick look-see. They WILL kill if they think you are threatening them or if it’s the mating season.

bottom line: wild animals are wild animals and do not react according to our dictates or desires.

Hunting low on the food chain
You say they were having a great time. This is similar to dog owners mistaking the dog wagging his tail as happiness when in reAlity it is them fixing on their prey.

They were likel hunting in a group. Since we unconsciously see ourselves as the apex predator we may not know THEY are the apex predator in that moment!

These animLs are incredibly powerful. A bit humbling. I had a similar experience to u off


Good not to be knocked over and eaten I say!

I’ve volunteered with TMMSN
(Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network) for a number of years. It is illegal to “take” marine mammals according to the MMPA, and when you look at the definition of “take”, it defines it as, among other things “harass”. Then look at the MMPA definition of “harrass” and you’ll see it means doing anything that might disrupt their behavior patterns. Encouraging them to become used to interaction with humans would fall under that. At least that’s how it was explained to me in my volunteer training, which was a while ago.

now you know how the wildlife feels

I don’t
That is my point. Don’t humanize them.

Nothing more.

Dude, don’t worry
"I had hoped that merely following the standard advice for all animals of not trying to reach out or follow closely would help. But if dolphins are more aggressive than that then that’s a problem. I know normally they come to me (often in large pods) and I can’t possible out run them which puts me at risk."

Okay, dolphins aren’t going to hurt you. Yeah they’re bad ass predators. Yeah, if they wanted to kill you, they could, but unless you screw with them it’s not going to happen.

Bears, big cats, gators, sea mammals… we’re not on their menu. And when they see a human, they’re generally scared and just want to get out of our way. Just don’t get all up in their business and screw with their food, safety, young and you’ll do okay.

good advice, but…
your advice, like mine, is important for all animals from more friendly to not so friendly. But definitely non-friendly animals require added safety measures and I’m hearing that dolphins are definitely not on the friendly list though all my encounters would appear to put them in the friendly category (though one must avoid appearing a thread even to friends).

I’m not humanizing them

– Last Updated: Jul-22-09 4:48 PM EST –

But if you think they're perfectly fine with a kayak approaching them, you need to think again (if you wade through your own long post you'll see we're in agreement).

saw a man who worked at sea world, standing on shamoos mouth getting ready to dive off. suddenly, the man dissappeared! he fell into shamoos mouth and was accidently eaten! true story, saw it on the news.

A “take” under the MMPA is anything that can be construed as interfering with the normal breeding, feeding or sheletering of an animal. It’s mainly killing and capturing, but it includes “pursue” and “harass”, which are very broadly-defined. Also includes anything that makes the animal change direction, and any physical contact whatsoever, even if incidental: i.e. you’re “swimming with” the dolphin and it makes contact with you - you’re still liable for being putting yourself in that position to begin with. Most importantly, any ATTEMPT to do any of the above is also a violation.

By trying to “swim with” an animal, you have no idea what it was trying to do before you decided to engage in that activity - whether it was on its way to feed, whether you might be separating a mother from a calf by your presence, etc. This is something exhibited more overtly every day in Alaska when the tour boats start essentially herding whales from one inlet to another in order ‘watch’ them. The whales come there specifcially to feed, and these tour operators - and by extension, the people who pay them - are keeping them from doing that. It may seem like a minor impact, but it’s also cumulative. Ask people who live in SE Alaska how many whales they used to see as recently as the 1980’s compared to now.

The closer you try to get and the more of an “experience” you try to have, the more damage you do - maybe not to that particular animal at that exact time, but to all of them: you help to remove the natural caution that evolution gave them. Part of the reason so many manatees are killed and gouged by propellers is that years of petting, stroking, swimming with and fondling of manatees by unthinking tourists has made them unafraid of us - until the get smacked by a boat because they were someplace which, if they had had their old ‘caution’, they would never have ventured into in the first place.

Marine Mammal Protection Act
established in 1972, amended in 1994. Here is a passage which explains the illegal “taking” of wild marine mammals which gives two definitions:

Level 2 (harassment)can be overtly bothering the animals, but also occurs in a passive unintentional way where we humans do not mean to harass. Our very presence is disruptive to the wild creatures especially if they are breeding, pregnant, nursing, etc.

This is no criticism of the OP. It sometimes happens that we come up suddenly within the range of these creatures, because of our actions and/or theirs. In these instances the caring and correct thing to do is to admire silently for a bit, then retreat to a distance.

let the wild creatures be wild. As said above, they do not “feel” or “think” in the ways we might as we interact w. them and so while we categorize their actions as “good” or “bad” they do not have to conform to what we think. And, for sure, we do not have any idea what they think.

Above all do not anthropomorphize a wild animal. sometimes it is just insipid and cutesy, other times it can kill injure or kill ya.

In agreement

– Last Updated: Jul-22-09 9:02 PM EST –

Whoops! I totally misread your post. I get the drift now!

most definitely will put us on the menu. They are omnivores after all.

Google bear maulings (Images) -there is some pretty gruesome evidence (right to the bone) that they find us pretty tasty.

The worst thing for us might be that a bear will literally eat a human alive and drag whatever remains to partially bury it in a cache. There are also plenty of necropsies done on bears which have human remains, clothing etc in the bears’ digestive tracts.

Did he extend
the finger of friendship?

There’s a difference between making deliberate advances on a pod of whales, and having them come to you by their own choice. If you don’t appear aggressive, they’ll usually return the favor. I’ve never knowingly approached any cetacean - they have all come to me, or in most cases, ignored me, and just swam by. Several places I’ve paddled, just being on the water guarantees you’ll see at least one just by paddling and minding your own business. When I see one, I stop, and let them do what they will. Sometimes they come and check me out - usually Dolphins, Pilot Whales, Belugas, and sometimes Minkes do that in my experience. The big whales could care less.

I’ve never heard of a kayaker being attacked by a whale, and the only questionable behavior I’ve heard of is Gray Whales bumping kayaks, and even that is unusual. Even Orcas have a clean record with kayakers, and they’re vicious predators.

IMO, if you respect their space, whales will leave you alone, or maybe check you out, but that’s about it. Of course, there’s always a possibility of a sick or injured one lashing out, but once again, when has that happened? Paddle responsibly around them, and enjoy any encounters!