Keep smiling

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Keep smiling

Touchy, feely; a diver and a dolphin. Photo by George Karbus Photography/Gallery Stock

Is there any reason to think dolphins and humans have a special relationship? Sure, but it might not be a friendly one

Justin Gregg is a scientist working with the Dolphin Communication Project and co-editor of the academic journal Aquatic Mammals. He is the author of Are Dolphins Really Smart? (2013).

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One evening in the summer of 2004, I was in a bar on the Bahamian island of Bimini when a smiling young woman came up to me. I was on the island as part of my training with the Dolphin Communication Project, a small US research organisation that studies a resident population of Atlantic spotted dolphins just offshore. The smiling woman was a massage therapist, and she wanted my opinion. She had a plan to set up a dolphin resort at an undisclosed location in the Bahamas. The idea was to capture dolphins from the wild and transfer them to swimming pools where they would be used in healing therapy. What did I think? Well, I was not too keen on the idea. Why jeopardise the welfare of wild animals by removing them from their home? Why not just take people out to swim with the wild dolphins, as they already did in Bimini, and let them interact with people on their own terms? But the massage therapist didn’t see it like that. ‘You don’t understand,’ she said. ‘Dolphins want to help people — they will want to be with us at the resort. Humans and dolphins share a special bond, don’t you know?’

At the time, I had never heard of a dolphin-human bond. As a fledgling dolphin cognition researcher, I simply didn’t know enough about dolphin behaviour to say whether she was talking science or science-fiction. Now it is almost 10 years since that encounter with the massage therapist on Bimini, and I am finally familiar enough with the scientific literature to pick up this discussion where it left off. What is the nature of the dolphin-human relationship? Do dolphins have an unusual desire to seek out human contact? Is it unusually friendly?

The science makes one fact undeniably clear: wild dolphins of some species are noted for seeking out social encounters with humans. The phenomenon of lone sociable dolphins — for whom human contact appears to substitute for the company of their own kind — is documented extensively in the scientific literature. Among the better-known examples are Pita from Belize, Davina from England, Filippo from Italy, Tião from Brazil, and JoJo from Turks and Caicos. One report from 2003 described 29 lone sociable dolphins that were regularly observed by scientists, and a number of scientific articles have been published since then on new ones. There is no doubt that these animals are exhibiting inquisitive behaviour, which lends weight to the idea that dolphins do in fact seek out human contact with some regularity. One might go so far as to say it constitutes irrefutable evidence: apparently wild dolphins can have an affinity for humans. But should this kind of social contact also be considered friendly? There, the record is more ambiguous.

Of the 29 well-studied dolphins just mentioned, 13 of them exhibited ‘misdirected sexual behaviour towards humans, buoys, and/or vessels’, which means the dolphins (mostly males) occasionally sported an erection and attempted to mount swimmers. It’s not always possible to interpret what ‘sexual’ behaviour might mean in this context, but by all accounts it was dangerous for the humans. Women often seem to be the victims of these aggressive encounters. Some jealous dolphins reportedly chased male humans out of the water so that they could keep their human female prizes all to themselves. A number of these dolphins made a habit of abducting people — dragging them out to sea, preventing them from returning to shore, even pinning them to the seabed. Two-thirds of the 29 dolphins directed overtly aggressive behaviour at humans, resulting in ruptured spleens, broken ribs, people being knocked unconscious, and worse. In 1994, the Brazilian dolphin Tião managed to send 28 people to hospital during his visits before eventually killing the swimmer João Paulo Moreira (who was reportedly drunk and possibly trying to restrain Tião, or maybe even attempting to force a cigarette into his blowhole).

This, I should emphasise, is the only case of a human fatality involving a wild dolphin that I could find in the scientific literature. Even so, it is clear that aggression is common even among the friendliest of friendly dolphins. Because of the damage they have caused to property and swimmers, many lone sociable dolphins are considered nuisances. Were they provoked? More than likely. More than half of these dolphins ended up with injuries caused by their association with humans, and many of them were killed — some of them on purpose. But provocation and justified self-defence do not negate the fact that these friendly dolphins can be extremely dangerous.

Perhaps we could look instead to another category of wild dolphin that has been known to spend time in proximity with humans. Provisioned dolphins are essentially bribed with fish to interact with humans. Unlike the lone sociable dolphins, they only seem interested in us because they receive free food. Visitors regularly report curious and amiable interactions with them. Aggression, however, remains a problem. Tourists and locals in Florida, Louisiana and other parts of the US coast regularly (and illegally) offer food to wild dolphins, with the predictable result that the humans are commonly bitten, while dolphins have suffered propeller strikes and other injuries (including one animal that was killed in 2012 when someone in Alabama or Florida stabbed it in the head with a screwdriver).

Because they are so dangerous for both parties, the National Marine Fisheries Service and its partners have initiated an awareness campaign to discourage such encounters. The US Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 prohibits feeding or otherwise interacting with wild dolphins and other marine mammals. Monkey Mia, a tourist destination in Western Australia that is famous for its provisioned dolphins, has introduced policies to discourage people from feeding adult males, and the daily feeding encounters are tightly regulated by local officials in order to minimise risks. Clearly, dolphin curiosity does not result in benevolent encounters. But then, if their primary motive is hunger, why should it?

In a number of places around the globe it is possible to watch or swim with groups of wild dolphins that have become accustomed to human swimmers, no bribery required. They can be found (among other places) in the Bahamas, Japan, Egypt, New Zealand, the Azores, and Hawai’i (where it’s technically illegal to swim with wild dolphins). In some places, such as the Little Bahama Bank in the Bahamas, it might even have been the dolphins who first initiated regular contact with human boaters or swimmers. In other areas, for example the Florida Keys, the local dolphins were systematically targeted in order to habituate them to human presence.

Whether this was serious aggression, mild annoyance, or just a form of play behaviour is up for debate

In the Bahamas, where in-water encounters are common, evidence of friendly inter-species interaction is abundant. The wild spotted (and sometimes bottlenose) dolphins found in these regions undeniably behave in an extremely curious and friendly manner toward researchers and tourists, with inter-species games such as seaweed keep away lasting for hours. These kinds of encounters — documented extensively in the scientific literature — constitute clear evidence of an affinity for human contact. Entire tourist industries are based around friendly interactions with these curious wild dolphins. But even under these circumstances, aggressive behaviour has been known to occur.

One of the most highly publicised incidents was the case of Lisa Costello, whose 1992 run-in with a wild pilot whale (technically a dolphin species) was captured on film and can easily be found online. In the video, you can see Lisa swimming with a large wild pilot whale near Kealakekua Bay in Hawai’i. She gently caresses the animal while it is resting at the surface. The next moment, the pilot whale clamps down on her leg and drags her under water. Over the following minutes, the animal repeatedly grabs her and lets her go, at one point diving down 30 or 40ft with her grasped firmly in his jaws. Lisa barely survived the encounter. Whether this was serious aggression, mild annoyance, or just a form of play behaviour on the part of the pilot whale is up for debate. There are no other reports of pilot whales attacking swimmers in areas where in-water interaction is known to occur. In fact, when you set aside lone sociable dolphins, attacks such as these on human swimmers are extremely rare.

At first look, then, the case for a special dolphin-human bond based on mutual affection appears equivocal. But perhaps I’m not considering the most decisive evidence. What about the long tradition of wild dolphins helping to save human swimmers from drowning — an act that, on the face of it, seems as friendly as it gets? Alas, accounts of such episodes are almost entirely anecdotal in nature, usually appearing in the form of human-interest news articles. Typically, they involve dolphins forming a protective circle around swimmers to defend them from sharks, pushing a floundering swimmer up to the surface of the water to breathe and/or be fished out of the water, or leading the victim to safety, sometimes by actively dragging or towing them to shore. Since it is well‑known that dolphins provide this kind of altruistic support to each other (also known as epimeletic behaviour), the idea that dolphins can and do rescue humans in these ways is entirely possible, if not likely. But there is not enough evidence to evaluate the true nature of these encounters.

The trouble is, human memory is treacherous, and traumatic events in particular make for unreliable eyewitnesses. Scientists studying dolphin (or other animal) behaviour are well aware that different observers produce different reports, which is why controls are put in place to compare observer notes and to use objective measures such as video recordings. Alas, there are no dolphin-rescues captured on film, and none reported in the scientific literature so far as I know, so all such stories appear to be based exclusively on eyewitness descriptions. Consider that in many of these cases, the victims had been or were about to be attacked by sharks or were otherwise on the verge of a near-death experience, and that these rescues usually involved people with limited knowledge of dolphin behaviour. It seems doubtful that, just moments from death, they should be able to coolly observe the behaviour of the dolphins and produce a reliable narrative of events. Therefore, until solid evidence turns up, we should take these stories with a grain of salt, however plausible they might seem, and however frequently they are reported.

You never hear from the people that the dolphins didn’t save

We should also weigh them against the body of anecdotal evidence that paints a less rosy picture of dolphin conduct. The pilot whale that almost drowned Lisa Costello is not going to win any medals for acts of heroism. The marine mammal researcher Toni Frohoff, director of TerraMar Research in California, reported an incident in which dolphins suddenly fled the scene as soon as a shark was spotted, leaving her to fend for herself. There’s even a news report from 2007 of an intoxicated man who was attacked by a group of bottlenose dolphins after falling into the Black Sea in Ukraine. The animals allegedly tried to drown him, prompting the Russian news agency Interfax to declare that they ‘lack the reputation of friendliness and love of humans enjoyed by dolphins in wealthy nations’.

Perhaps the homicidal-dolphin phenomenon is more prevalent than we know. As Kathleen Dudzinski, my research supervisor at the Dolphin Communication Project, used to say: ‘You never hear from the people that the dolphins didn’t save.’ It might well be that some dolphins are pathologically indifferent to our fate, leaving us to drown when they could have easily saved our lives. Although the idea of killer-dolphins sounds ridiculous, the world has seen stranger things. One news item from 2012 tells the tale of a fisherman lost at sea in the Pacific who was led to safety not by a dolphin, but by a shark. He was lucky that friendly dolphins did not show up to drive the friendly shark away, or he might never have been heard from again.

Many dolphins definitely don’t have a special bond with us. The only contact that common dolphins, striped dolphins, Fraser’s dolphins, Commerson’s dolphins, Clymene dolphins — indeed, the majority of the 40 or so species of dolphin — generally have with humans is when they ride the bow waves of our ships or get caught in our fishing nets. Records of friendly encounters almost invariably involve species, such as bottlenose dolphins and spotted dolphins, that live near shallow water, which is to say, near us. It would therefore be false to say that dolphins as a taxonomic family (family Delphinidae) have an affinity for humans. Most of them rarely interact with us.

If, on the other hand, we accept that we’re only talking about a handful of species, we are still left with the problem of how to measure friendliness. In particular, how do we know that dolphins are friendlier than is normal for an animal species? Clearly, we need a way to compare friendliness to some sort of baseline. The nearest thing we have (still not very near, unfortunately) is the emerging field of animal personality studies.

Researchers such as Samuel Gosling, professor of psychology at the University of Texas, and his colleagues at the Gosling Lab have been developing a means of objectively testing animals in order to evaluate the nature of their individual personalities. Pet owners tend to find it obvious that individual animals have different personalities and temperaments, but the challenge for scientists is how to measure this objectively. Not only does the assessment need to be similar, regardless of which person is rating the personality, but it needs to reliably predict how that individual animal will behave in the future. Studies have been published evaluating the personalities of octopuses, squid, pigs, dogs, hyenas, monkeys, gorillas, chimpanzees, and yes, dolphins. For the dolphin study, the individual animals were evaluated using a scale to measure five standard factors: (1) openness to experience; (2) conscientiousness; (3) extroversion; (4) agreeableness; and (5) neuroticism. The conclusion was that individual dolphins have stable personalities that independent observers generally agreed upon. Some dolphins were more agreeable than others, some more neurotic — and these personality traits were the same from year to year.

These personality tests work well enough when looking at individuals within a species, but not so much when comparing different species. What would it mean to say something such as ‘Gorillas are friendlier than hyenas’? Imagine that you have two gorillas: one that often grooms its family members, and one that never grooms its family members. The first gorilla would be rated as more agreeable than the second. If you were observing hyenas, you would likely rate the hyena that was involved in an average of only 3.5 aggressive encounters per day more agreeable than the one that was involved in an average of 18 aggressive encounters per day. But is the agreeable hyena more agreeable than the agreeable gorilla? We’re comparing apples and oranges, and truly meaningful cross-species comparison will elude us until we can be sure all the behaviours we’re looking at are, so to speak, the same kind of fruit. Perhaps this will become possible some day (it is in fact one of the goals of the field of personality studies). Then we could see how dolphins measure up. But we aren’t there yet.

Since there is no scientific way of telling whether dolphins are friendlier to humans than other animals, I’m forced to turn to anecdotal accounts and personal opinion. My gut tells me that domestic animals such as cats and dogs are clearly friendlier than dolphins. It seems inconceivable that any animal could possibly be more excited to see a human being than the Dalmatian I had as a child, who nearly passed out from waggly-tailed happiness whenever she spotted me returning home from school. Perhaps this friendly excitement is a result of the domestication process — a few millennia’s worth of humans breeding dogs specifically to love us. But even wild animals such as elephants, gorillas, chimpanzees, bears, wolves, lions and parrots can thrive in constant close contact with human beings when tamed, and some species reportedly seek out human contact in a purely wild setting — just like dolphins. Do these wild species have more of an affinity for humans than wild dolphins? This is, I am afraid, in the eye of the beholder.

All the same, regardless of how unusual it might be when compared with other animal species, there is a stack of good scientific evidence that documents curious and friendly dolphin behaviour involving human beings, which is probably enough to support the idea that dolphins have an affinity for humans. But the fact that dolphins sometimes (and, in the case of lone sociable dolphins, quite frequently) attempt to injure human beings should be enough evidence to dismiss the idea that these encounters are always friendly in nature. And there is currently no strong scientific evidence to suggest that dolphins are always keen to lend a helping hand when humans are drowning or being attacked by sharks.

If you find yourself in any of these situations, don’t count on the verifiable but otherwise unpredictable dolphin-human bond to save you. Dolphins are, after all, wild animals. Overestimating their interest in human companionship — whether it’s in shark-infested waters or at a healing resort — is likely to do more harm than good.

Read more essays on biology, general culture and nature & environment


  • Aeoner

    Dolphins = Godless Killing Machines

    • DB

      I grew up and virtually learnt how to swim with captive Pacific Bottlenosed dolphins. I couldn't begin to explain how loving and compassionate these animals can be.
      Who's godless making such uninformed comments?

  • Vierotchka
  • MeL

    Though I agree in the statement that not all encounters with humans are friendly (and that is a fact that requires 3 lines to say, with enough evidence to support it) the rest of the examples, arguments and details are unnecessary and possibly misleading.
    I would neither encourage anyone to depend on dolphins to save them when endangered, as I would not count on humans either.
    There are almost 40 species of dolphins as he well explains... therefore talking about anything as a "dolphin characteristic" is simply wrong. But, the fact that something is not in the scientific literature, does not make it unreal... have you read about humpback whales feeding during the winter season in Norway?
    As it is said here, comparing behaviour between different animals makes little sense, so in fact, why focusing on other animals? why not just remove the others from the picture? as far as I understand, noone is claiming that dolphins are more special than others, simply that they are special... there are over 2 million animal species on this planet.... one can unequivocally say that dolphins ARE special in many ways.
    Lastly, as he well said, dolphins have personalities. Pretending that every dolphin in the world behaves the same way is ridiculous and there is no scientific evidence to support that. What it is basically discussed here then, is that if you would expect Aberdonians (I live currently in Aberdeen, UK) to behave the same way as people from "la villa 21" in Buenos Aires (near where I was born). Let me tell ya... no way.

  • Russell Hockins

    Considering how humans have treated cetaceans over the past 400 years, as compared to earlier times, which could accurately be described as a 'genocidal war' against them, it is amazing that more bad encounters have not happened. Hunting them down to turn them into things like food, lamp oil, lipstick, or capturing them and making them perform stupid circus tricks for their daily food hardly seems like friendly things to do.

    The Orca in my icon pic is Kotar, one of the four Orcas Sea World had in their public petting pool back in 1980 and one of the ones in the above artwork. The other three were Katina, Kasatka, and Canuck II. I got to know them very well over the years time they were in the public display where they interacted with thousands of visitors and NO ONE was ever hurt. All four were friendly and playful towards people who knew how to properly interact with them which is *not* by teasing them with fish trying to touch them.

    I have worked on three different interspecies communications projects and have had thousands of hours interacting hands on with dozens of dolphins and the above four Orcas. I can say cetaceans are highly intelligent and do understand the concept of language.

    • LouAnnWatson

      tell that to the trainer that was taken by the hair and drowned...they are unpredictable wild animals. everything is cool until one day a light goes off and you become a threat.

      • Russell Hockins

        Oh, right... So "unpredictable" that four untrained Orcas were in a public access petting pool for over a year at Sea World San Diego, interacting with thousands of untrained visitors and NO ONE was ever hurt. EVER.

        It is after 3 decades of "training" via operant behavior modification, food and social deprivation that their staff who are "Specially trained to work with Orcas" are the ones being killed.

        I don't expect people with your attitude to ever be able to understand the problem is not the 'wild animal' but the self righteous humans who believes they have some "god given right" to place highly intelligent social beings like Orcas in such small tanks and make them perform for their daily food by doing stupid tricks for the entertainment of other humans like you.

        I have been grabbed by the arm up to my elbow in their mouth (just like Dawn was by Tilikum) on over a dozen occasions by those same four Orcas when they were inviting me into the water. I am unhurt, whole and alive and not a trainer nor had any "special training for interacting with Orcas". Apparently the trainer you speak of had no idea how to properly deal with Orcas despite the "special training" they had.

  • Pablo

    I am not even sure what to say. Humans are as violent and destructive as it gets. We show disregard for everything on the planet just for more stuff and money! And we are trying to evaluate the Dolphin? Your encounter with another human is way more dangerous.

  • Ravi Wells

    i think it reasonable to assume that, if they are as intelligent as we are finding them to be in our "research" - then they are quite capable of both compassionate OR indifferent/aggressive behavior towards us - a species that has very often been quite unfriendly/aggressive or mean to them. I like best the observation "we never hear from those that dolphins did NOT save"..... well put.....

  • Zane Barnes

    Fascinating story. Back to the news. Mr. Obama is a lying sack.

  • LouAnnWatson

    dolphins are wild animals, not cute pets. if they can kill a shark they think is a threat, they can definitely kill you

    • Jeff Spicoli

      You're delusional, where are your sources? You're more likely to be killed by a police officer than a dolphin.

    • Jada B

      That's actually true, but dolphins are lovable creatures, they will only kill if they are aggravated and teased.

      • EJDKNA


  • Richard Nightwood

    May be wild but not nearly as dangerous as Chicago on any given day.

  • carolanne

    My 5 year old daughter and I had an amazing accidental encounter with a dolphin mom and her baby, several years ago. I can attest to the fact that they are extremely intelligent and in many ways just like us. In that same vein we always have to remember that dolphins like human have different personalities. We need to take into account the males of any species can be dangerous, humans included of course, as well as remember what we all know about the lone wolf mentality. An animal or a person that lives alone more often than not has issues interacting with others. Lastly I have been concerned for many years that the wild animals are being "annoyed" by the constant "study" they have to endure by humans, I think it is bad for them. Just think how you would feel if you were constantly invaded in your homes and studied. It is time to leave the wild animals alone and not do any more studies on them, let them live in peace.

    • MeL

      The biggest problem wild dolphins face is uncontrolled approaches, whale watching, pollution, getting caught in fishing gears, captures for display, etc, none of which can be solved if they are not studied. Research vessels have a low disturbance behaviour, to interfer the least possible with their lives and learn as much as possible in order to protect them.

  • Annoyed

    More drivel from Gregg. Just eye grabbing headlines to publicize his upcoming book. Anything anecdotal against dolphins is fair game here, but the instances where dolphins save multiple swimmers from sharks are apparently too anecdotal to be trusted.

    And 'pathologically indifferent to human fate'? Really? So its a pathology if a wild dolphin fails to help you? The fact that any dolphins display friendly and altruistic behavior towards humans is extremely significant - somehow Gregg thinks the fact that most of them don't is more worthy of severe comment.

    I seriously question this man's motives. He works hand in hand with people who study dolphins in captivity, and as we all know, captivity is under serious scrutiny now with films like The Cove and Blackfish. Gregg seems to be systematically trying, albeit indirectly, to push back against the surge of support to start treating cetaceans with enough respect and dignity to not keep them captive anymore.
    At best, he's just an attention grabber, trying to make you look with his misleading and sensationalist headlines. At worst, he's playing a larger game.

    He's subtle - beneath his headlines, he'll try to balance things out more or less... but the damage is done: the majority of people who don't read further than the first paragraph or so, are left with misleading information.

    Perhaps most damaging here is the general perspective. There are almost no reports of cetaceans initiating seriously aggressive action against humans unless they have first been treated inappropriately (and yes, caressing a wild pilot whale and hovering behind it while touching it is VERY inappropriate behavior: try doing that to a human you've never met before and see what happens).

    • DB

      Thank you!!!
      Glad you sniffed the hidden agenda.

  • Just me

    None the less of the naysayers, I thought this was an intriguing story. I would think twice meeting a dolphin. Glad I am a land lubber. Great article.

  • hp b

    After being exposed to humans for even a short period of time, dolphins invariably reach the same conclusion the humans themselves reach.
    "He was a great guy, until I got to know him."

  • Juan

    We kill them by the thousands, no wonder they recognize us as a threat

  • Dean

    Id like to offer the viewing of the film trailer on the home page of
    Yes, dolphins, like humans, are certainly very personality specific. Some take risk and some don't? Some are very sensitive, others not, etc...Certainly there are those that rescue people and also those that lash out in dominance displays. Overall, wild dolphins are very passive and friendly, but they do have their rest times and play times.

  • Carl

    A few things which interested me about this article and which
    might be worth following up.

    1. The thesis of the argument seems to be 'are dolphins friendly?' This is taken an indication of dolphin intelligence.

    2. The context of the anecdotal stories, if known, is not given.

    3. The author is at pains to point out the anecdotal nature of accounts describing individuals and groups of dolphins aiding humans, but by contrast appears content to accept at face value the account of a shark aiding a human swimmer, seemingly for no other purpose than rhetorical effect. Does this indicate a cognitive bias?

    4. A high level of dolphin intelligence would probably require contradictory behaviour toward us, since their experience of us is contradictory. Context on some of these stories would be illuminating and might even lead to some surprising conclusions.

    Had the dolphin or other members of the group in each case suffered from negative human interaction or not?

    Asking that question might lead some interesting avenues for future observations relating to the level of possible intelligence, culture, memory and perhaps even complex communication between dolphins.

    5. Would dolphin intelligence even be recognisable? We exist in a very narrow sensory array, blind to most of the electromagnetic spectrum, having a limited auditory range, sense of smell and able to withstand a fairly limited range of temperature and pressure. All our lives we walk about on a horizontal plane in a medium of air.

    Dolphins exist in a three dimensional space, with up and down not limited to physical geometry, in a medium of water, below a surface skein, beyond which they know exists a different world. Any intelligence they developed would likely be founded on very different assumptions about the world, and therefore any assumptions we make about what constitutes intelligent behaviour are likely to be flawed.

    6. Do groups of dolphins appear to behave more 'intelligently' than lone dolphins? Do solitary dolphins and groups in the wild exhibit substantially different behaviour than captives?

    7. Are dolphins asking themselves, in their own way, whether we
    are intelligent or not?

  • brightsoul

    They possibly have good memories, and like crows if they are harmed in any , years later could hurt humans. They may want to talk to us, but to tell us who harmed them. So we could do something about it.

  • Jimmynaita

    being an intelligent animal and realizing the unprecedented killing of dolphins since the last 30 years in Japan, Bahamas and other parts of the world they tend to avoid humans especially males... or something like that.

  • Wyle-E

    Dolphin- Hey look at those humans over there in the water. What are they doing?
    Dolphin 2- I don't know. Let's go over and ask them.
    They don't seem to understand me.
    Okay, let's try sign language.
    Hmm, they don't seem to understand that either.
    Well I don't know why. I flashed my fins and wagged my tail just like I always do when I talk in sign language.
    Well maybe they're just not as intelligent as we thought they were.
    Yeah I don't like being around them very much anyway. They always try to touch me and I don't like that. It makes me feel violated.
    Don't they realize it's sexual harassment?
    I guess not.
    Well here comes a shark. Maybe he can communicate with them.
    No, he's just making them leak that red stuff that they have inside them.
    Yeah, that's just nasty.
    We probably won't have to be concerned about them much longer anyway. The oceans are warming fast and that will cause major havoc for the land dwellers.
    Why don't we just head down to our vacation spot. By the time we get back there probably won't be near as many of them to bother us.
    Yeah, we can hang out down there until this whole human thing blows over and then we'll have a lot more freedom around here.
    Sounds good to me.
    Bye bye silly humans...
    Hey, they are waving back at us!
    I guess we were able to teach them a little sign language after all.
    Yeah, good work.
    High Five!

  • Poor Richard

    A dolphin, no matter how intelligent, is a predator. It is a wild animal, not a Disney character. It should be treated with fear and left alone to the extent possible. Otherwise, it could be inured to behavior that might hurt it or any human that happened to be about. No one should be surprised by this. Feral dogs and cats are not terribly friendly to humans, domestic ones are. The same could probably be said for dolphins, though unless raised in captivity, they'd all be "feral". Cheetahs have been known to exhibit curiosity and "friendliness" to humans, though wild; however, I'd not want to be with those same cats if they were hungry, upset or otherwise acting like the predators they are.

  • Alexander Benenson

    I wonder how much of this has to do with the evolutionary accident that dolphins appear to be smiling all the time? Humans are hard-wired to infer human emotional states from facial expressions, so it's natural to assume that a smiling animal is friendly.