The Cayman Islands Department of Environment is warning swimmers not to get in the water with a bottlenose dolphin that has been spotted in the North Sound in Grand Cayman in recent weeks.
The lone dolphin has been approaching boats, rubbing against moorings and chains and spending hours or days swimming back and forth in small areas in the sound during the past two weeks.
Janice Blumenthal, a research officer with the Department of Environment, recommended that boats also keep their distance from the dolphin and for people not to feed it, so that it does not become dependent on humans or change its natural behaviour.
“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,” Ms Blumenthal said. “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.”
There have been sightings of a dolphin in the North Sound in the past, but this male dolphin seems to be bigger than the animal previously sighted, so either the dolphin has grown or it is a different creature, Ms Blumenthal said. Department of Environment staff, who have observed the animal, said it may be a young dolphin that has separated from its pod.
Ms Blumenthal said the department thought twice before issuing Friday’s news release about the dolphin, as it may encourage more people to try to view the dolphin, but said the potential for swimmers to be injured by the dolphin needed to be communicated to the public.
“It’s not just in one area all the time. People have reported seeing it on one part of the sound and then in another place … It’s gotten to the point where we are getting more calls from people saying ‘I swam with it and it snapped its jaws at me’ and we felt since it may be a threat for people to get in the water with the dolphin, it would be wrong for us not to communicate that,” Ms Blumenthal said.
She said the dolphin was not attacking or trying to bite people, but because it is not accustomed to being around humans, it may be acting aggressively, so it was important for swimmers to stay away.
It’s not known why some dolphins become solitary. In some parts of the world, lone dolphins have become famous for their friendly behaviour, but international marine mammal experts have expressed concerns for the safety of lone dolphins and for 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.
Veterinary experts are also concerned about the potential for transfer of diseases from dolphins to humans and vice versa, Ms Blumenthal said.
Sightings of the dolphin should be reported to the Department of Environment at 949-8469.