Dolphin Sexual Harassment

*This post is rated PG-13.*

Perhaps because of the last post’s reference to dolphins’ sleeping strategy, or perhaps for no reason at all, someone asked me for (actually, sort of demanded) a post about the dark side of dolphins.

This person heard that dolphins occasionally attack people, drown them, and sexually assault them (although not necessarily in that order). If you, like me, have never heard of this urban legend, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you. But before you freak out and vow to tear down all the dolphin posters in your room, burn them, and dance naked around their ashes, please listen up.

It’s not really true.

There are a few instances of dolphins sort of sexually harassing humans (much like dogs occasionally do), but as far as a spreading scourge of murderous, raping dolphins–eh, not so much.

I’m not saying that dolphins are oceanic angels that are incapable of aggression.

Dolphins are fiercely intelligent wild animals with incredibly complex behaviors and social structures. We can’t pretend to be able to predict their behavior. For instance, not long ago, a trainer at Sea World was drowned when an orca (which is a type of dolphin) held her underwater.

To make absolutely sure that the dolphin rumor wasn’t true and to separate fact from google search result, believe it or not, I emailed a dolphin researcher and asked her straight up if dolphins ever sexually assault people. Please take a moment and think about how embarrassing that was for me. Thanks.

Beautiful Minds: The Parallel Lives of Great Apes and DolphinsMaddelena Bearzi co-authored one of my favorite books, Beautiful Minds: The Parralel Lives of Great Apes and Dolphins. The book discusses both groups of animals and describes how even though they live in very different environments, because of their comparable intelligence, they have some behavioral and social similarities. This book gave me several mindgasms. Needless to say, I recommend it.

There is also a great anecdote about a pod of dolphins leading Maddalena’s research vessel toward a girl who was nearly drowning. I’ve seriously considered pretending to drown so that I might be saved by dolphins, but luckily, I’m too lazy to actually do it.

Since I so loved her book, I subjected this poor person to the most random email ever, but luckily she was nice (and patient) enough to answer my rather bizarre questions about dolphin sexual aggression rumors. She has my eternal gratitude and apologies.

She debunked the sexual assault rumor (as I explained above), but she acknowledge that a dolphin might curiously “play” with the occasional human because in dolphin world, sexual play is just a normal part of growing up and participating in dolphin society.

She will talk more about dolphins’ sex lives in her next book, which will be available March 2012. It’s a ways away, but fret not; I’ll remind you.

UPDATE 4/3/12: I kept my promise about her new book. 

She also stressed that we always need to remember that these are wild animals and need to be considered as such.

Check out the Ocean Conservation Society, which Maddalena co-founded:

You can adopt a dolphin and volunteer for an ocean clean-up mission. So act like a dolphin, and go help someone (but please don’t sexually harass them).

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12 replies
  1. Mabel Louise
    Mabel Louise says:

    This blog was great! A long time ago I saw a documentary called “The Dark Side of Dolphins” or something scary like that and I have never felt the same way about them… actually I DISlike them. I have to say, I kind of dislike them less now. :) Thanks.

  2. Elle
    Elle says:

    It’s not their treatment of humans that’s really the concern. They’re awful to each other and to other sea creatures. Dolphins can be jerks. Rapey, murderous jerks.

  3. Ahmo LaMonica
    Ahmo LaMonica says:

    Some Idiot on tv, a reality star, was going on and on about this like it was so true. I was horrified. I remembered the man who made Jaws coming out about the horrible consequences his movie had for the reputation of sharks. I believe this could alter the way people rightly and needfully worship the ocean and it’s creatures so I was hell bent on finding out the truth. Sadly, your website is the only thing I’ve found so far telling the truth. What is is with people wanting to believe dolphins not only rape? But gang rape humans? The end of innocence.

  4. Flavius Josephus
    Flavius Josephus says:

    Jeez I can’t believe I ended up here. I was trying to google something completely unrelated to dolphins but I typed “Is it true that…) and “dolphins rape people” came up as the top recommendation and I was like; what?

    So anyway I really wish your page was higher up on google as many of the top results retardedly confirm the stories, trying the entire time to sound official. Even the Yahoo answers confirms the stories. The top answer is written as if it was pulled from several newspapers.

    Thanks for putting forth the effort to find out the truth. No matter the topic the search for truth is a noble path; and providing truth is greater still.

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