You Just Can’t Trust Dolphins

The title of this post has been a personal philosophy of mine for a while, and one of the things that makes me glad to be a part of the Southern Fried Science network is that I am among like-minded individuals.  I don’t know what it is about sea mammals and I’m pretty sure most people who actually study them are just as mystified as I am, but people get really weird about them.  They seem to have this strange effect on some humans that leads to things like people falling in (physical) love with them, wanting to birth their children in the water with them, believing they have psychic powers, and perhaps most annoying to those of us studying anything else in the ocean at all, that they’re somehow more worthy of protection than other sea creatures.  Also, mention that you’re a marine biologist in a party full of non-scientists sometime.  I guarantee that 9 times out of 10 you’ll be asked what it’s like to work with dolphins.  Why yes, the goal of every marine scientist is to eventually work their way up to being a dolphin trainer at Sea World.

Which is why I owe a tip of the hat to Katie, a longtime friend of the blog who sent me a link to Animals Behaving Badly, which chronicles the antisocial behavior of some of the cuddliest creatures on the planet.   Sea mammals, in particular dolphins, are well-represented there.

The top story on there right now is a retrospective on Moko, the dolphin who made headlines by terrorizing the waters of New Zealand and recently passed away.  Among this dolphin’s many good deeds are stranding surfers by stealing their boards 500 yards from shore, knocking people out of kayaks, and in at least one case refusing to allow a swimmer to get out of the water.  Moko is far from alone, however: dolphins can get just as creepy with their sexual deviancy as humans.  Sharks might bite you, but dolphins might try to rape you.  The children need to be warned!

Which is not to say that dolphins are not genuinely interesting animals that deserve the same amount of respect as great white sharks, vampire squid, deep sea corals, ctenophores, herring, or any other marine life.  Believe it or not, I don’t think the problem lies with the dolphins (though they are showboating jerks).  There is a point where our blatant favoritism towards the cute and charismatic is actually detrimental to everything else around them, and often ends up hurting the dolphins themselves in the long run.  I think everyone interested in ocean conservation should be required to read this post on the old Southern Fried Science site.

That’s my turn on the soapbox for the day.  Let the comments fly.


  1. WhySharksMatter · July 23, 2010

    A shark biologist friend recently told me that he ended a year-and-a-half relationship because of the girl’s views on dolphins (true story). I completely understand where he’s coming from.

  2. WhySharksMatter · July 23, 2010

    FYI, I am planning on re-writing the dolphin-safe tuna article for the new site. I’ll let you know when it happens.

    • Chuck · July 23, 2010

      Awesome. It’s one of the few blog posts I consider essential reading. You can tell Andrew that his guide to brewing beer in a coffee pot is one of the other ones.

  3. Jason R · July 23, 2010

    “Did you know that dolphins are just gay sharks.”

  4. wombat · July 23, 2010

    In fact, cute animal favoritism is bad for science – science has proved it:

    I’ve got a link somewhere to that tuna article – would also love to see the rewrite.

    • Chuck · July 23, 2010

      Awesome to hear from the author behind Animals Behaving Badly. It’s damn good read, keep up the good work.

      • wombat · July 23, 2010


  5. Claire · July 23, 2010

    Love it ^_^

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  7. Sweetwater Tom · July 23, 2010

    I think that many people’s views on dolphins says more about their own needs than about the reality of dolphins.

  8. Dan · July 23, 2010

    Thanks for the shout out to herring

  9. WhySharksMatter · July 23, 2010

    FYI everyone- I re wrote the dolphin safe tuna post and will be posting it tomorrow.

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  11. John Carroll · July 23, 2010

    Thank goodness! Finally, somebody else who shares my disdain for dolphins. Like you, it started as a telling people I am a marine biologist thing (although, I volunteered at the New York Aquarium during undergrad and if I had to hear the trainers yelling to their dolphins like children one more time I was going to lose it!)… But I also realize that dolphins are potentially dangerous, despite their charismatic and “cute” demeanor (thanks a lot Flipper!). I just flat don’t like them and am glad that someone shares my distrust!

  12. Malcolm J. Brenner · July 23, 2010

    None of you can deal with experimental subjects who have mirror neurons.

  13. Southern Fried Scientist · July 23, 2010

    Congratulations Chuck, welcome to the marine science blog big-leagues! You’ve got your Brenner Badge!

    Good to see you again Malcolm.

    • Chuck · July 23, 2010

      I’m so proud.

    • Malcolm J. Brenner · July 23, 2010

      Go fuck yourself, you sanctimonious son of a bitch.

      • Chuck · July 23, 2010

        Okay Malcolm, your first comment on this post: perfectly fine.

        Your second comment betrays some seriously thin skin for this internet thing. Keep it civil. Consider this your last warning.

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