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This article was posted on the Marine Mammals Research and Conservation Discussion (MARMAM).

Summary of Workshop on Small Cetacean/Human Interactions:
Research and Management

From Toni and Jim Frohoff, 16 December 1995

Held at the Eleventh Biennial Conference on
the Biology of Marine Mammals,
Orlando, Florida, 14-18 December 1995

Convened by: Denise Herzing, Toni Frohoff, Marcos Cesar

The following presentations were given:

Denise Herzing:
Interactions with free-ranging spotted dolphins in Bahamian waters

Kathleen Dudzinski:
Interactions with free-ranging spotted dolphins in Bahamian waters and free-ranging bottlenose dolphins in Japan

Janet Mann:
Interactions with free-ranging bottlenose dolphins and dolphin feeding at Monkey Mia, Australia

Toni Frohoff:
Interactions with free-ranging bottlenose dolphins in Florida and Belize and bottlenose and spotted dolphins in the Bahamas

Anna Barber:
Interactions with spinner dolphins in Hawaii

Rochel Constantine:
Interactions with dusky and bottlenose dolphins in New Zealand

Marcos Cesar:
Interactions with a lone, sociable bottlenose dolphin in Brazil

Barbara Bilgre:
Interactions with a lone, sociable bottlenose dolphin in Belize

Laurel Bryant:
Dolphin feeding in U.S. waters

Allison Smith (and Erich Hoyt- not present):
Review of international regulations for small cetacean watching and swimming


To address the continuum of dolphin/human interactions in the wild and to share ideas on issues, problems, and successes in research and management.

Major categories addressed: Lone, sociable dolphins; groups of sociable dolphins; and feeding of wild dolphins.


(1) To discuss protocols, possibilities, needs, and problems related to research on dolphin/human interactions

(2) To discuss management of dolphin/human interactions - what worksand what does not work

(3) To create a general protocol/regulation sheet for human behavior in the presence of dolphins


I. RESEARCH (Objective #1)

Research on human/dolphin interactions can be conducted with the same methodological integrity as research conducted on interspecific interactions with non-human species.

A. Conducting research on dolphins in the presence of human swimmers:

1) Studies of intraspecific (dolphin-dolphin) interaction/communication

2) Studies of interspecific (human-dolphin) interaction/communication

3) Methodologies/minimizing observer effects

B. Studying the reactivity of dolphins to human activity:

1) Shore-based versus boat-based reactivity studies

2) Assessing short-term versus long-term effects of swimmers/vessels on dolphins

3) Assessing individual versus population effects of swimmers/vessels on dolphins

4) Reliability of behavioral criteria used to assess reactions/effects (i.e., variables such as individual behaviors and activity levels, as well as school size, activity, composition, and socialization).

5) What reactions (positive/negative), do we see from sociable interactions (physical-, behavioral-, habitat-related)?

6) Methodologies/minimizing observer effects

C. Important data to collect/research opportunities/research needs

1) Studying dolphins with and without the presence of people

2) Studying interactive dolphin behavior with and without provisioning (when provisioning is already underway)

3) Studying dolphin behavior before swim programs are implemented, then after implementation

4) Examining longitudinal behavioral changes

II. MANAGEMENT (Objective #2)

A. Undesirable dolphin behaviors:

1) Aggression and sexual behaviors directed towards humans (management through modification of human behavior)

B. Undesirable human behaviors:

1) Overzealous/problematic swimmers and boaters

a) Management options may include: on-site education, enforcement of human behavior, public/media education, and local government involvement which includes provision of logistical and financial assistance

b) In monitored areas, training/educational programs for operators and managers may be equally, if not more important than public education

c) Enforcement may be more important than public education as education does not seem to be very effective

d) Of all types of vessels, jet skis appear to be particularly problematic

C. Protocols for swimmer/boater - dolphin interactions (Objective #3)

Most regulations for cetacean/human interactions have been designed for large whales, but guidelines for small cetaceans are becoming more needed as program popularity increases. Some participants said that regulations are not helpful and do not effectively control people, nor could they endorse the interactions. There was a general consensus that educating people does not really work; that you need to have people on boat or on shore to monitor/regulate/enforce. Others said that operators could control people, especially with respect to where/when to put people in the water with dolphins. The majority expressed a need to have legislative back up for regulations so that regulations can be effectively enforced. There was some dispute within the group regarding whether or not regulations for in-water interactions with dolphins were appropriate and effective.

1) Overview of guidelines for appropriate human behavior/activity in the presence of dolphins used previously by others.

a. Guidelines which have been useful (i.e. recommendations for boat operators regarding boat operation and placement of swimmers in the water)

b. Guidelines which have not been useful (i.e. those which cannot be enforced)

2) Identification and drafting of a set of general guidelines for human/dolphin interactions by workshop attendees


The dangers of provisioning free-ranging dolphins with food was discussed. Attendees expressed concerns that these dangers appear to extend well beyond other types of dolphin/human interactions. Examples encountered in feeding terrestrial wildlife were given (e.g., bears). It was also stated that dolphin feeding occurs more predictably and selectively than most other types of interactions and therefore may be terminated more realistically through enforcement, given appropriate legislative and financial backing. Consequently, provisioned interactions were not addressed in the same manner as other types of interactions and noguidelines were discussed.


Under what conditions, if any, that interacting with wild dolphins is acceptable was discussed. Some attendees stated that all formal public observation of dolphins should be restricted to shore-based or incidental observations to avoid presenting unavoidable risks to the dolphins. Others stated that boat-based (e.g. dolphin/whale watching) and/or in-water observations and interactions were acceptable given that all possibleprecautions are taken.

Because of the increasing popularity of swimming with dolphins and the extensive historical record of such interactions, the feasibility of prohibiting all such interactions was questioned. Consequently, there was some agreement that developing guidelines for operators, managers, and the public may at least help to mitigate risks, given that the development and dissemination of guidelines was not used as an endorsement of interactive activities.

What was generally agreed upon was that the many unique characteristics of different delphinid societies, such as habitat and habitat use, species, gender, age, social composition, as well as seasonality and daily activity, should all be considered in assessment, regulation, and monitoring of dolphin/human interactions. Consequently, research in these areas can contribute to protection of dolphins who may regularly interact with humans.


This workshop definitely raised many more questions than it answered. Some of these include the following:

1) What is the difference between controlled swim-with-the-dolphin programs and dolphin/whale watching in terms of effects to the dolphins?

2) When/where/under what conditions (if ever) is interaction with dolphins acceptable/not acceptable?

3) What is the potential for infections/disease transmission?

4) What research methodologies and methods of analysis are most appropriate?


Many of the workshop attendees had extensive expertise in the area of sociable dolphin/human interactions. We recommend that additional workshops allow for extensive time to allow for increased attendee participation.


A bibliography of human/dolphin interactions can be obtained via email. Send requests to:


These guidelines are the result of a review of existing guidelines used around the world and to some extent, general agreement among attendees who supported the use of guidelines in regulating dolphin/human interactions. Drafting and dissemination of these guidelines does not condone interactive programs and should not imply that all workshop attendees support these guidelines.

Guidelines can be somewhat general but also need to be specifically tailored relative to different people and delphinid species, age and gender, habitats (e.g. shallow or pelagic), local laws, and any other unique characteristics of dolphins. A copy of an international summary of protocols is available through A. Smith and E. Hoyt. Send request to:

In Water Guidelines:

Small number of people to dolphins in the water.
No entering water abruptly if dolphin nearby.
Keep activity minimal, especially if dolphin becomes excited.
No loud or sudden noises or movements.
No touching dolphin.

If touch inevitable (i.e. situation which are not monitored), warn not to touch blowhole, eyes/face, genital region, flippers, dorsal fin, flukes, and not to wrap arms around or restrict dolphin movement in any way.

Never chase dolphin.
Leave immediately if dolphin exhibits sexual or agonistic behavior directed at humans.
No presentation of inorganic objects or rope.
Absolutely no feeding.
No flash from camera.
No sunscreen/repellent/jewelry.

Boat Operator Guidelines:

No sudden increase or decrease of speed.
No cast fishing lines or setting nets nearby.
Twin engine/screws - do not operate in opposite directions.
Watch for dolphin before engaging in gear.
Do not cut off dolphins (i. e. no leap-frogging to get ahead of animals); parallel or behind follows are recommended.
Do not travel faster than dolphins.
Do not permit more than one boat near group of dolphins in order to minimize underwater acoustic disturbance.

Workshop participants:

There were approximately 65 attendees at the workshop with various interests and experience in researching or managing human/dolphin interactions.

Special Thanks:

To the Marine Mammal Society for providing the opportunity and facility for convening this workshop.

Further inquires/ideas: Convenors:

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