Divers warned against amorous dolphin

Cayman Islands Dolphin Michael Maes main

The Cayman Islands Department of Environment is stepping up its appeal to the public to avoid feeding or interacting with an amorous solitary dolphin that has been approaching snorkellers, swimmers and scuba divers in the waters off Grand Cayman. 

The dolphin, who was recently filmed bothering a group of divers on a dive site in West Bay, has become bolder in recent months, acting sexually aggressively toward humans and snapping its jaws at them. 

Director of the Department of Environment Gina Ebanks-Petrie said: “Reports to the Department of Environment suggest that the dolphin is becoming increasingly persistent in seeking out interaction with swimmers and divers. Continued human interaction, especially feeding, will worsen this problem and discourage the dolphin from reintegrating with the wild dolphins that occasionally pass through our waters.  

“As the dolphin could inadvertently injure a swimmer or diver during an interaction, the DoE is continuing to advise the public to avoid entering the water to swim with the animal,” she said. “Anyone who is approached by the dolphin while diving, snorkelling, or swimming should leave the water as soon as possible.” 

She added that the Department of Environment is consulting with international marine mammal experts about the solitary dolphin. 

Videographer Michael Maes, diving at Hepps Wall off West Bay in Grand Cayman with his wife and a friend last week, fended off the dolphin with fins and underwater filming equipment when the dolphin tried to pin him to the seabed floor. 

Mr. Maes uploaded a video of his encounter of the creature to YouTube to warn other divers and swimmers to get out of the water if they come across the dolphin and in a bid to discourage others from seeking out the animal and interacting with him. The video, by Monday morning, had more than 95,000 hits. 

The dolphin has earned a few nicknames, including Stinky, Humpy and Randy, since reports of his amorous approaches to swimmers emerged earlier this summer. 

On Monday, when Mr. Maes, along with his wife Ellen Cuylaerts and marine biologist Alex Mustard, who are both underwater photographers, were on a boat dive with Off The Wall Divers, at about 60 feet, when the dolphin showed up. 

Mr. Maes said he heard the dolphin before he saw him and thought there might be a pod nearby. Suddenly, he was face to face with the lone dolphin. “His eye was right there next to me, just inches away … I screamed,” Mr. Maes said.  

At first he did not realise this was the same lone dolphin the Department of Environment had warned people to keep away from, but Ms Cuylaerts and Mr. Mustard, who were a little above him in the water could see immediately that the dolphin was alone and tried to beckon to Mr. Maes to start to surface. “I could see it was the loner dolphin and knew we had to surface and get back to the boat,” said Ms Cuylaerts. 

But, the dolphin had other ideas. 

As the trio started to go shallower and began to abort the dive, the dolphin held onto Mr. Maes, “courting him”, said his wife. 

At one point, the dolphin pinned the videographer to the seabed floor, at about 25 feet. Mr. Mustard went back down to help, distracting the dolphin with his dive fins and drawing attention away from Mr. Maes, as both men started to surface. 

“This is an animal with 500 pounds of pure muscle … It’s seven feet long and it’s got amazing strength. I dive with sharks and I know a couple of tricks you can do to make sharks keep their distance. They’re shy. This dolphin was not. I tried those tricks, but he tackled me on every single one of them. They’re very intelligent. Don’t play with them – you’re on the wrong side of the odds,” said Mr. Maes. 

“If you see a dolphin in the water, don’t get in. If you’re in the water and a dolphin approaches you, get out of the water,” advised Ms Cuylaert. She also warned against acting aggressively toward the dolphin. “You don’t want to hurt him, just keep him at a firm distance. If you get aggressive with him, he’s a dominant male, so he’ll just get more aggressive. Don’t go slamming into him,” she said. 

Ms Cuylaerts said the dolphin also charged her at high speed, trying to get her out of the way, and she also used her camera equipment to ward off the animal. 

Despite their adrenaline-filled 10-minute encounter with the amorous creature, the couple say they harbour no ill will toward the dolphin.  

“My greatest worry, one, is something happens to somebody and, two, there will be retaliation against the dolphin which he does not deserve that. He’s there, it’s his place and he’s just acting naturally,” Mr. Maes said.  

He said he decided to film the dolphin’s behaviour to show people that these young male animals can be aggressive due to their sexual appetites. 

“A lot of people don’t understand why we posted the footage on YouTube and Facebook. It’s not because we want something to happen to the dolphin, it’s because there are people on this island who think ‘Great, it’s a dolphin, let’s jump in’,” Ms Cuylaerts said. 

The couple said they believe this is the same young dolphin that was first spotted in the North Sound four years ago, when it was reported that a wild dolphin was hanging out near the then new dolphinarium. The dolphin was known as being playful, but now as he matures, his sexual needs are increasing and because he does not have a mate, when he gets aroused, it is best not to be in the water with him. 

The three divers managed to return safely to their boat, which other divers in their group had already boarded after being approached earlier by the dolphin. The boat picked up another three shore divers who had also attracted the dolphin’s attention. 

Sue Rocca, a marine biologist with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society in the United States, said solitary dolphins had been known to interact with humans in the wild because they have become accustomed to human company and because people feed them. It is now illegal to feed a dolphin in the wild in the United States, she said. 

“Feeding dolphins is not a good idea. It habituates them to humans and to getting handouts,” Ms Rocca said.  

Getting too close to humans can also end badly for the dolphin, Ms Rocca said. “One dolphin was found with a screwdriver in his blow hole,” she said, referring to a case in which a bottlenose dolphin was found dead near the Florida-Alabama border in Perdido Bay in June. 

Ms Rocca said there had been cases in the US of orcas and whales being moved away from areas, but she said she thought if Cayman’s solitary dolphin were moved, it was likely he would simply return to local waters. 

“It sounds like the government there is taking the appropriate measures and giving the right advice by telling people to stay away,” Ms Rocca said. 

The Cayman Island Tourism Association has contacted its water sports members to encourage them and their customers to keep their distance from the dolphin. 

Jane van der Bol, executive director of the association, said: “It is amazing that a solitary dolphin has chosen the warm wonderful waters of the Cayman Islands to visit. While this is fascinating to many of the snorkellers, divers and boaters, we must always remember that this dolphin is a wild animal in an unknown habitat.  

“The CITA stresses to our water sport operators, curious visitors and locals to observe this solitary dolphin at a distance and not interact with him,” she said. “It is our wish that our visitors, locals and solitary dolphin remain safe.” 

 

The Department of Environment is appealing to anyone who encounters the dolphin to report their observation by e-mail to [email protected] or call 949-8469. 

Cayman Islands Dolphin Michael Maes vert
Stinky the dolphin gets close to Michael Maes. – PHOTO: ELLEN CUYLAERTS
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12 COMMENTS

  1. Lets get this straight. People go into the waters with perverted minds, provoke the dolphin and then complain?
    The dolphin is the one who needs to be protected. Is there animal cruelty laws in Cayman? This is sick.

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  2. For hundreds of years, people have never felt comfortable with anything wild unless it can be either captured or killed. If captured, the animals would serve no other function then to be entertained by ignorant human beings who believe that freedom was only meant for humans to enjoy. Killing however is much easier to do to solve the problem, if there ever was any but it makes the threat go away, permanently and then usually for the extended purpose of being eaten by of course, humans.

    The case with Stinky, a name I would much rather give to humans in a lot of cases, is no more a threat to humans then he would be in a prison tank. Imprisoned dolphins, with their superior intelligence being a marine mammal, has learned or rather adapted to the fact that the animal awaits a feeding of some discription being dead fish in exchange for doing tricks which beats starving to death. Dolphins do like to interact with other species other then their own which totally works against them as humans simply do not know what to expect from them in the wild hence the outcry as to what to do with this guy. Answer: Do nothing and just leave him alone. Over time, they have shown great compassion towards humans otherwise nobody would dare try to swim with them in a tank, a compassion by the way not returned to them by humans doing so under the guide that we may learn something from them which proves our own level of intelligence doesn’t it?

    We can only hope that this dolphin may be adopted by the next pod that comes our way, sooner rather then later as humans can not be trusted to allow nature to take it’s course the way it was intended (and this is just one example). Humans also generally forget that most if not all animals are on this earth to either feed us or to entertain us in some form or another, a privilege no animal on this planet has for their benefit. Humans need animals, animals do not need humans except those we have forced over time in to domestication and I repeat, for our pleasure, not theirs.

    We can not expect respect from animals including our domesticated ones, if we do not treat them with equal respect. First I might add.

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  3. There are actual 2 wild dolphins, as at the same time of the VHF radio report above was going on, 1/2 mile south at Lighthouse Point shore dive location there was a dolphin at the dock. This dolphin was much smaller and had no scares on it body and was non aggressive but very interested in the 9 divers and 4 snorkelers that it encountered at the dock after coming back from diving. There were other divers in the water that never even saw this beautiful creature. After about 20 minutes the dolphin left the area. I posted these pictures of this peaceful dolphin on the DOE site.

    In my 37 years of diving, I have had 11 wild dolphin experiences and on one of these experiences my wife was saved by a dolphin from a Mako shark in the Seychelle Islands. I would recommend NOT flashing camera strobes or video lights at dolphins like these divers were doing.

    I total agree that our visitors, locals and the wild dolphins remain safe, but not all encounters are life threatening.

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  4. @Animalliberator: I’m totally against the dolphin jails here on island. Dolphins are beautiful, magnificent animals and very intelligent, and their home is the sea, that’s not ours. I’m also totally against killing of any animal because it would be not convenient for us humans (I do kill cockroaches, but even that makes me feel bad).

    We were in the dolphins habitat and there have been beautiful encounters with the loner, and ours was unprovoked a bit more scarier. We did not go and look for him, and when we saw him, our attempt was to leave the water immediately and just enjoy the dolphin sight from the boat without interaction. Well, it took us a while.

    @Divejay: while getting into shallower water we did NOT use flash or lights (as you know, when I take pictures, I mostly try to use ambient light as not to disturb any wildlife). I was not planning on taking pictures but it took us a while to get out and I just wanted to show the power of this dolphin to create awareness and to prevent incidents. We could also choose to ignore this and shut up, which is always the easiest when things are controversial.

    We have the greatest respect for all wildlife and do great efforts on awareness and conservation.

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  5. Okay, here is the solution.

    You carry a golf ball with you at all times. When the dolphin gets too close. Jam that golf ball in his blow hole.

    Once he dies, drag it’s carcase on the boat and invite people over for a mahi mahi bbq.

    super simple solution here.

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  6. @EllenC: Thank you for caring! I understand your concern but don’t forget that fear is the driver of most accidents. Humans have a born fear for anything unfamiliar or show attributes that could possibly kill them such as creatures with a lot of teeth or claws for instance like a dolphin, orca, lion, bear etc. etc. Humans, physically probably the weakest link among most species and knowing that, is probably the main reason we do not leave home with some sort of mechanical weapon, if allowed, as our hands, feet or teeth are no match for opponents such as the aforementioned types of animals. However, many reports have been published over time a house cat killing his or her owner, same with dogs and a host of other creatures people thought would be fine to have as a pet at home. When was the last time we heard or read an article a dolphin killing a human under any circomstance or location? Can’t recall any, can you? Few stories have been reported about captive dolphins having shown agressive behaviour and that was because the trainer exhausted the animals to a point of total dispair after 8 hours of nothing less then torture, sorry, I mean playtime, no food, no break at all, this report came out of Aruba I believe a few years or so back. One of the dolphins landed itself on the backs of the participants after a high jump. Later it was assumed the dolphin must have been so exhausted it had no clue left where it was going.

    I am by no means an expert here but I do believe this guy was just playing around with you and others, why, because he knows he can, he knows he can kill you and if he wanted to, you could have been injured or dead by now and countless others if dolphins are to be considered dangerous to be around with. Dolphins are simply too nice a creature to consider such a thing under mutually respectful circomstances and conditions. However, also considering what humans do to them in their captive oversize bathtubs, I wish they weren’t for their sake having lost their freedom to perform in these shows entertaining a bunch of totally selfish human beings.

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  7. Thank you animalliberator for your answer. We have been contacted by marine biologists with more information about loner male bottlenose dolphins and their behavior towards other males of their own kind and humans. Dolphin incidents are almost never reported because it can cause damage to a business or to an island’s economy, and it does not comply with our happy Flipper image, but DOE does not warn because of this incident but because they have more knowledge about loner male bottlenose behavior. First official warnings were weeks ago.

    Again I respect any animal in the wild, but I just want to say: it is an wild animal with own laws of social interaction we shall never fully understand since we’re no dolphins;-).

    If people will respect this and are aware the chance of incidents will diminish.

    Some links: (will also help to close the bathtub jails down):

    http://articles.cnn.com/2002-06-04/world/uk.dolphin_1_ric-o-barry-dolphin-swimmers?_s=PM:WORLD
    http://whale.wheelock.edu/archives/ask99/0494.html

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1748-7692.1993.tb00463.x/abstract;jsessionid=293856B3FCA2B0CA63E03AEC28F3FA5D.d01t03?systemMessage=WileyOnlineLibrarywillbedisruptedon15Septemberfrom10%3A00-12%3A00BST%2805%3A00-07%3A00EDT%29foressentialmaintenance

    I think we’re all on the same side here, only wanting the best for the dolphins!

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  8. This is not the same dolphin as encounterd earlier this year. He is much much larger. I wrote about in the earlier warning not to swim with him about the fact that dolphins use the penis as a hand to feel of items. Obviously he was feeling a lot on that diver. But I believe he is a different one as the scars on the back are in not the same as the other scars on the previous dolphin. I agree he is in his water not ours we are land creatures and if you venture into the widl then expect wildness – I know they can be horny mammals so be prepared if you see him. Tourist stay away from him – enviro people leave him alone, fishermen find him a woman and Big Berd please go back to sesame street and leave the cayman islands.

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