Close encounters of the eco-correct kind

May 8, 2003
Outside Magazine
Wild Dolphin Tips

1. A natural interaction should be unscripted and up to the dolphin.
2. If a dolphin approaches, avoid the impulse to reach out and touch. Imitate the creature's movements, swimming with your arms to your sides. Avoid splashing.
3. Don't interject yourself into a pod of dolphins or try to prevent the animals from swimming on.
4. Smile back.

Look! Fly Flipper, fly!

THERE'S NO DENYING the appeal of swim-with-dolphins programs: What kid doesn't want face time with Flipper? But growing awareness of hazards to the captive dolphins used in these programs—critics lament everything from the size of the enclosures to the destruction of dolphin social systems—have generated a backlash. Last December, Maui became the 18th county in the United States to ban the exhibition of captive whales and dolphins.

The swim programs became popular, in part, by marketing their worth as a teaching tool, which dolphin-protection advocates dispute. "Captive dolphins are in a man-made environment, eating food provided to them by humans, doing the bidding of humans," says Merrill Kaufman, director of education at the Maui-based Pacific Whale Foundation. "There's little educational value to that."

Now, as the tide turns against captive-swim programs, organized excursions to swim with wild dolphins are riding a wave of popularity. But critics aren't keen on these, either, saying that the boats motoring up to dolphin pods to drop swimmers into their midst stress the animals.

So what's a dolphin-loving family to do? Anne Rillero, the foundation's director of marketing, encourages wildlife enthusiasts to simply observe dolphins rather than forcing interaction with them. When you're observing, she points out, the emphasis remains on the dolphin—not you.

Filed To: Nature

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