As interactive dolphins are achieving a much higher profile these days, there has been a lot of talk in some quarters about the problems that these dolphins supposedly cause in the harbours and coastal areas where they decide to hang out. For example, the chaotic scenes and bitter arguments that have surrounded both Dony and Dusty are in stark contrast to the delight and joy they have brought to the people who have actually got to swim with them.
But it can turn nasty for the dolphins, with at least one recent case of a healthy and playful dolphin being harassed and terrified by a 'rescue' organisation before eventually being captured in a net and dumped out at sea. Confusion exists as to what official bodies are actually responsible for managing these situations, and the question of whether it is the dolphins that need 'managing' or the humans is rarely addressed.
In most of these incidents the scientific community has either vocally or tacitly supported any attempts to separate the dolphins from the humans whose company they seek out. In Europe, very few attempts have been made to actually study the dolphin-human interactions or to learn from the dolphins' behaviour around human swimmers - and in Ireland and Britain, none at all.
Pioneering scientific work has been done in this field by Toni Frohoff in the US and now at last the tide is beginning to turn even in Europe. Monika Wilke, who carried out extensive studies of Dolphy in the south of France in the 1990s, has collaborated with Wade Doak from New Zealand, probably the world's senior expert on interactive cetaceans, and Mike Bossley, a leading Australian dolphin researcher, to write the first scientific paper to attempt a comprehensive overview of the subject of managing human-dolphin interactions. It was published last year in the Aquatic Mammals journal and we now have their kind permission to reproduce it in full.
Whilst we would have a number of criticisms of the paper and suggestions for further study (which have in fact already been graciously welcomed by the authors), we are delighted that respected cetacean scientists are taking this issue seriously and looking at it to some extent from the dolphin's point of view as well as the humans'.
We see the paper as a valuable starting point for a debate which should involve the general community as well as the scientists and civil servants. Management decisions should be informed by the viewpoints of all of us who care about dolphins, and not controlled by any special interest group.