A number of cases have been reported to us over the last month or so in which Dusty the Fanore dolphin has apparently acted aggressively towards swimmers. Dusty has in the past been known to butt people occasionally, to push them out to sea or to obstruct them when they try to return to the shore, though it has not been understood what has provoked this atypical behaviour. The recent incidents have involved more worrying behaviour in that the dolphin has also held people underwater with her beak, although this is not actually new behaviour as we saw this as far back as 2000 at Doolin, but it seems to have got more common during the busy summer season. In the middle of August, a 12 yr-old boy left swimming on his own 25m off shore suddenly found himself the recipient of very unwelcome attention from Dusty, who was repeatedly ducking him underwater. An experienced swimmer and diver, visiting from France, went to his aid and was in turn ducked, poked and smacked by the dolphin before himself being rescued by one of the regular swimmers.
We donít understand the full mechanism of this apparently aggressive behaviour, but regular observers on the scene report that it is often connected to Dustyís desire to take possession of a swimmerís Ďtoyí of one sort or another: a boogie board, a camera or a face mask are commonly mentioned items. If you give her what she wants, there is no hassle! She usually makes it clear by first biting at the mask, for example, or trying to knock it off your face. If you deny her, she can get stroppy and if you intervene in an Ďargumentí she is having with someone else (to rescue someone else for example) she may well turn on you instead. She is more likely to bully children or women and she has only turned on one of the regular swimmers on one occasion that we know of.
In the incident of 13th August, it seems that no 'toys' were involved so this is not a complete explanation.
Dusty may appear to behave like a spoilt child at times, but she is not, she is a wild animal with her own ideas and instincts and it is futile to try to impose our human values on her. If people go in swimming with her, they do so at their own risk and on her terms. If you go into a strangerís house in a foreign country, you do not start dictating how things should be. If your host wants you to take off your hat and your shoes, you do it. Itís the same with Dusty. She didnít send you an invitation, you invited yourself! So we recommend that if Dusty wants your boogie board or whatever, you give it her! Think of it like an admission charge to her world, if you like. You may get it back later, but donít bank on it; she already has a pile of Ďstolení diving gear somewhere which certainly includes several expensive underwater cameras! Therefore, if youíre not prepared to give it away, donít take it into the water with you!
And please can we try to get a perspective on this Ďaggressive dolphiní complaint we keep hearing and which attracts so much negative press attention for dolphins in general? Dusty could make mincemeat of any of us landlubbers if she wanted to, just like we squash a fly. Certainly if she holds you underwater for a few seconds or smacks you with her tail, she means to punish you. It doesnít, however, mean she is trying to kill you. What she has done to most complainants basically amounts to giving them a fright, with only a couple of people (in the course of five seasonís intensive interactions with thousands of visitors) coming away with bruised or cracked ribs after a vigorous prod from her beak. In the rough and tumble world of a wild dolphin, this is no more serious than us giving a cheeky puppy a smack on the nose. Dusty is a large and powerful predator in her home environment. Show some respect. To take a land-based comparison, if you marched into a bearís cave and expected to be allowed to climb all over her, would you complain if you emerged with only a few cuts and scratches?
As always, we donít advise, encourage or recommend anyone either for or against going swimming with Dusty or any other wild dolphin. But if you do decide to go in with Dusty, as well as being sure that you can handle the sea conditions at Fanore, we suggest that you look after your own children and stay close to them. In fact, unless youíre very confident and experienced at swimming in the open sea, itís always better to swim with other people rather than alone. And we think the advice of the regular swimmers - to leave any Ďtoysí at home - makes sense.