A study of the sociable lone dolphin in Nuweiba, Sinai

A multi-year research study of sociable lone dolphin-human relations, centered on the female Indian Ocean bottlenose dolphin "Holly/Olin" in Nuweiba, Sinai. The study is based on an analysis of underwater video films documenting the behavior of Holly towards swimmers. The study compared dolphin-human behavioral repertoires (ethogram) to known dolphin-dolphin ethograms in nature. In addition, the changes in behavioral patterns over time (5.5 years) as well as effects of the reproductive status of the animal (three calves were born during the period of sociability), the nature of the interacting swimmer (male/female, Bedouin/Caucasian, familiar/strange), the number of swimmers in the water, and the presence of "trainers" (one of two Bedouins who were in close daily contact with her) were examined.

Understanding the above-mentioned effects on the various dolphin behavioral categories and defining stereotyped chains of events, particularly those leading to aggressive behavior, helps appreciate the needs and preferences of human and animal in unsupervised encounters with lone sociable dolphins as well as with dolphins in captivity or in the wild, and to draw up guidelines which will maximize the mutual reward and reduce the risks to both parties.

"Do"s and "don't"s for behavior near sociable lone dolphins:

It is always preferable (and usually required) to accompany a guide, familiar with the animal. When not available, it should foremost be kept in mind that the subject is a very strong wild animal, and not a pet in a zoo or petting corner. Pay attention to its "rights" as a wild animal as well as to your own safety.


 a. In Boats:


1.    Do not bring your craft (especially sea motor bikes) on a collision or near-collision course with the animal.

2.    Do not maneuver around it quickly or noisily.

3.    It is recommended to sail at a speed of 5-6 knots, parallel to its course, which will probably draw the animal to ride on the bow wave, or to silence the engine, which is likely to produce a display of leaping or some other display.

4.    Do not surround the animal with more than two boats at a time.

5.    On no account throw any objects at it, not even "natural" food, such as fish.  Artificial feeding is against the law and can cause the animal to become dependent and eventually to hasten its death if the connection is broken.

6.    Enter the water from a boat smoothly, from the side or the end furthest away from the dolphin, and swim slowly towards it.

7.    At all times when swimming in the water, stay close to the boat and do not get into a situation where you are in open water and unable to climb back onboard in the event that the animal becomes aggressive.


b. Swimming together in the water


1.    Do not allow more than three swimmers or divers at a time near the dolphin.

2.    Allow the dolphin to initiate the approach, and only if it invites you to stroke it (by presenting its underbelly horizontally with flippers outspread, or vertically with the tip of its snout out of the water, or by rubbing different parts of its body up against you), do so gently.

3.    Do not ”join the party" when another swimmer is stroking the animal. 

4.    Do not stroke any part of its head.

5.    Do not grab the flippers, dorsal fin or flukes (tail). The tail controls the dolphin's movements and holding it can provoke aggressive behavior.  Any attempt to hold on to a dolphin and prevent it from moving forward, in the sea or near the beach, can cause serious harm. The presence of a lone social dolphin in very shallow water does not signify that it is in distress and needs to be returned to the deep!

6.    If you encounter one or more of the following warning signs of aggression, break off contact immediately and return to your boat or the beach: stiffening/arching of the back, snapping jaws, simultaneous sharp movements of the flippers (akin to clapping), the emission of large bubbles of air while making a low-pitched sound.

7.    Sometimes (although the chances are very slight) marine mammals may transmit diseases to humans.


c. Swimming together with a calf of a sociable mother:

1.    Remember that the calf is not a lone sociable dolphin by choice, but rather born into a framework from which it may elect to depart in the future. In this framework, it is deprived of growing up in a normal pod of dolphins where it would be affected (i.e. disciplined) by older members of the pod.

2.    Do not come between the mother and her calf when they are swimming close together.

3.   All physical contact with the calf is forbidden, as it is in the stage of developing behavioral patterns by imitation, which would normally be learned from dolphins.  Humans must not pass on to it habits which are not appropriate to its natural behavioral and social repertoire.  In a number of cases in the past, babies raised in the company of humans became dependent, aggressive and particularly violent towards humans.

4.    If the calf approaches and makes contact, ignore it.

5.    If it rubs against you or courts you, push it away gently but firmly, taking care that it does not butt you or flip your mask off.