September 30, 2020

Don’t Swim with Lone Dolphin, Warns DOE


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Photo by Mark Orr

Over the past two weeks, the Department of Environment (DOE) has received several reports of a bottlenose dolphin approaching boats in the North Sound, swimming back and forth within small areas for hours or days and rubbing against moorings and anchor chains.

According to DOE Research Officer Janice Blumenthal, “Observing a wild dolphin is a rare privilege in the Cayman Islands. However, wild dolphins – especially lone dolphins – can be unpredictable and dangerous when approached by swimmers. Therefore, DOE is warning members of the public not to enter the water with this animal.”

She added, “People who have approached the dolphin have reported “jaw-clapping”, which is the dolphin rapidly snapping its mouth open and shut. Dolphins use behaviours such as jaw-clapping to communicate dominance among members of the pod. In interactions with swimmers, this can convey agitation and aggression and is a clear warning sign.”

Photo by Fulvio Bonati

The reasons why some dolphins become solitary are not well known. While some lone dolphins have become famous for their friendly behaviour, international marine mammal experts have many concerns for the safety of lone dolphins and people when interactions occur. The dolphins sometimes display aggressive and sexual behaviours directed toward swimmers who approach or harass them, leading to serious injuries and even death. In addition, veterinary experts are concerned about the potential for transfer of diseases from dolphins to humans and vice versa.

For lone dolphins, habituation to people often leads to changes in behaviour, infections and injuries such as propeller strikes from inhabiting areas of high human activity.

In Grand Cayman, reports have been received for several years of a solitary dolphin resident in the North Sound. It is not known whether the animal currently being seen is the same long-term resident dolphin. However, given its smaller size when first sighted, DOE believes it might be a young animal which was separated from its pod.

To avoid altering its natural behaviour, DOE asks members of the public who see the dolphin to watch it from a distance, not approach too closely, and not attempt to feed the animal. In order to gather information on the behaviour of the animal, sightings should be reported to DOE by phone (949-8469) or email [email protected].

Photos by Mark Orr, DOE and Fulvio Bonati.

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