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October 2018    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 44, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Divers and Dolphins: How Much Should They Mix?

from the October, 2018 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

When Max Weinman (Atlanta, GA) posted a report about diving with Top Dive, the dive shop at the Kia Ora hotel in Rangiroa, French Polynesia, some Undercurrent subscribers were outraged.

You see, Tiputa Pass, one of the two channels feeding the lagoon at Rangiroa, has such a rush of water with the inward flooding tide that the force produces a standing wave. A resident pod of dolphin regularly frolics in this standing wave, and because the Tiputa Pass has become a favorite dive site, they have also learned to frolic with divers in the channel.

Weinman wrote, "Of course, when divers witness wild dolphin, all bets are off, and to hell with the depth limits, as the dolphin would eagerly engage us at around 100 feet. Some of the dolphins became adorned with numerous divers clinging to their flippers, like hysterical human Christmas ornaments, until the dolphin became bored, at which time they would shake divers off and cunningly plunge deeper and continue to zoom all about us. To experience this once is the experience of a lifetime, but on almost every dive was purely amazing!"

Weinman added, "Sadly, despite briefings strongly discouraging that type of behavior, many divers demonstrated a type of deepwater dolphin narcosis, where the only thing of importance was to come into physical contact with the dolphin, irrespective of depth, dive tables and the laws of reason. Confronting them was not met with any type of logical or meaningful response, other than a distorted sense of entitlement."

There have been many cases of wild dolphins having close encounters with divers. Probably the most famous of them was Jojo, who resided in the waters off Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos. Jojo became so important to the tourist industry that Dean Bernal, a dive instructor who later turned into the executive director of the Marine Wildlife Foundation, became his official warden, and even had a parking space at the airport inscribed "Reserved for Jojo's Warden."

Naline, a female pan-tropical spotted dolphin, befriended a Bedouin boy in Nuweiba, an Egyptian village on the Red Sea, which reaped revenues from divers prepared to pay to dive with her. Naline liked to have her flanks rubbed with a brick left underwater for that purpose, but when pictures of her being stroked by divers with their bare hands were published, many were outraged. One diver in the published photographs, reading that people thought she might have damaged the dolphin's skin with her nails, retorted, "Well, they ain't never touched a dolphin!"

A bottlenose dolphin is a very large and muscular mammal, and its flanks are tough as concrete, unlike those of a cartilaginous shark. In the open ocean, they can choose to be near divers or not, easily out-swimming any human and most fishes.

Of his Rangiroa experience, Weinman wrote, "[The dolphins] had kept divers at bay, as a calf had recently been born in the pod, but with time, they grew more social as the baby matured. And lo and behold, the mother and calf skirted around us close enough to obtain some photos."

Undercurrent's stand has always been, you don't ride on any marine animals -- dolphins, turtles, mantas -- and keep a "look but don't touch" stance. Our thoughts: Hitching a ride is demeaning to the animal and doesn't present the human in a good light. What's your opinion? Write to us at

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