Human Interaction with Dolphins and Whales



We have been longingly observing animals in nature for a long time, as we attempt to imitate that which we admire. Eagles are often associated by various cultures with strength and superiority (Native Alaska, Bolivia, Germany, Mexico and The United States, to name a few), and if it wasn’t for an innate jealousy of birds, Orville and Wilbur Wright may not have solved the human flight equation. Wolves represent our fears of the unknown and for whatever reason from the moment the first humans gazed out across the waters and saw a blowhole spout, a fluke slap, a whale breach, or a dolphin jump our imaginations have been captivated by these most affable and intelligent mammals.

Some of our best legends feature either a whale or a dolphin (a small whale) interacting with human beings. Naturally, our interest in the larger varieties of whales has often been more cautionary than enlightened, as we are both fascinated and fearful. The Biblical story of Jonah, or other more recent tales of Pinocchio, Sinbad or Melville’s Moby Dick are some examples of this fear. Large, yet not frightening whales do, however populate ancient tales from China to America, from the Arctic Circle to Australia. It is the dolphin, though which has become one of the greatest ambassadors of the seven seas. Perhaps it is the ever-present smile, their playful nature, or some unknown connection we might have with these animals, but dolphins seem to be one of the few animals that humans (as a species) don’t fear.

In ancient Roman mythology (in a often cited affinity of dolphins for humanity) Phalanthus was brought safely to shore on the back of a dolphin, according to the historian, Pausanias. Many coins and crests depict a human riding a dolphin. In one tale, the demi-god, Dionysus was kidnapped by a group of misguided Etruscan pirates. To save himself, Dionysus invoked his divine powers, causing vines to overgrow the ship and turning the oars into serpents. This was so terrifying to the sailors that they jumped overboard, but Dionysus took pity on them and transformed them into dolphins so that they would spend their lives providing help for those in need.

To the Greeks, dolphins were the messengers of Poseidon (god of the sea) and sometimes did errands for him. Dolphins were said to be sacred to both Aphrodite and Apollo. In Hindu mythology the Ganges River Dolphin is said to be among the creatures that heralded the goddess Ganga’s descent from the heavens. She is sometimes depicted as riding a dolphin. The boto, a freshwater dolphin in the Amazon River are believed by natives to be shape-shifters, or encantados, who are capable of breeding with human women (to be fair, many tales of gods tricking women into having sex and giving birth, start with this shape-shifting element, where a god turns to an animal before raping his victim). To the best of our research in the real world though, there are no reported stories of a dolphin, whale or even Killer Whale ever having attacked a human being in the wild. This is not the case in captivity, however.

In 2010 the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature went to a film titled, THE COVE that uncovered (for most Americans) the shocking truth that some humans around the world, still find it acceptable to consume dolphin meat. This film, presented by the man who trained the bottlenose for the Flipper television series, was a regular spy-thriller that gave video proof of an annual trapping and slaughter of these generally beloved creatures in a tiny cove in Japan. The film’s impact was partly due to research by a scientist named John C. Lilly, (in the 1970s) who believed it was possible for humans to communicate directly with dolphins. The film THE DAY OF THE DOLPHIN was loosely based on Lilly’s studies.

This month (August of 2012), L&L Correspondent Deanna Whitney and Photo Editor, Lynda Lee joined Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Safari) out of Dana Point Harbor in Southern California. Captain Dave compares the large migrations of cetaceans (the family to which dolphins and whales belong) to the large migrations of land animals in Africa. He suggests that, in this day and age, it is equally strange for someone going to Africa to see a lion in the zoo, instead of in the wild, as it is for someone to go to a captive enclosure to see whales and dolphins, rather than letting them come to you in their natural habitat. The whole western coast of the United States is prime marine mammal viewing territory, in fact.

The comeback of the almost extinct California Gray Whale has practically given birth to a cetacean watching industry, from Hawaii to Baja, from Washington state to anywhere along our western coast, whale watching (not hunting) are growing businesses.

Below is part of the interview of Captain Dave himself, conducted by Deanna Whitney in our Premier Issue;

(L&L): What is the most asked question on your tour?
(Captain Dave): When are we going to see Dolphins or Whale? Or, when we do find Dolphins, and the next question is, “When will we see Whales?”

(L&L): What do you think is the most common misconception(s) about dolphins and whales?
(Captain Dave): That they are safe… on average 1,000 dolphins & whales are caught in nets daily around the world; if it continues at that rate they will become endangered quickly. It is important that people purchase seafood from the U.S.A., instead of outside the U.S. Because of the regulations and standards practiced by the fishing industry here, there is much less unnecessary loss of life.

(L&L): How does this specific tour location (Southern California, between Dana Point and Catalina Island) compare to the rest of the world?(Captain Dave): California has one of the largest populations of cetaceans in the world, and most people are unaware of how abundant the sea life actually is in our own backyard. On a daily basis we are able to see Blue whales, Gray Whales, 5 different species of Dolphins, Seals & Sea Lions, and various Sea life. You don’t have to go to an amusement park to enjoy the beauty of these animals, when you can come along with us and see them in their natural habitat.

L&L: Are their different things to see in this location at different times of the year?
(Captain Dave): There is always something to see… not just certain times of the year, but all year round. However, whale sightings are more common during migration.

L&L: How long have you been doing this job? What drew you to this work?
(Captain Dave): I’ve been doing this for a while. I had a boat & tried to find a way to make a living with it… doing something I loved. This seemed like a good fit.

L&L: What would you like people to know BEFORE they come on a tour?
(Captain Dave): How important it is that people become involved & educated in order to be able to help…Getting the word out that the animals are not safe currently is extremely important.

L&L: What would you like people to HAVE LEARNED/or experience AFTER they take your tour?
(Captain Dave): The beauty of the animals in nature… and to raise awareness of the existing problems. The purchase of the Book or Video… 50 percent of the proceeds go to saving the animals, and to help educate the population. Also they are in the process of installing underwater cameras that will be able to be accessed by the Internet that will record what is seen on the tours. Hopefully, all this will help to make the experience more accessible to people who might not be able to go on the tour. We are also helping educators with examples to be used in classroom setting by teachers. The view from under the water is better than the view from the boat.

L&L: Are you concerned about the nearby nuclear power plant, and have you observed that it has been affecting the Bay? (He got a serious look on his face and declined to answer.)
L&L: Is there anything else you think we should know right now? Do you have your favorite story that you’d like to tell?
(Captain Dave): Would you like to hear about one of the whale rescues I was involved in? There was a whale caught in a net, right out here. I got a call from the boat telling me. I was on my way out to dinner with my wife. Our friends were already at the restaurant and we were halfway there, when we got the call. I told my wife to turn around and we headed back so I could see what I could do. My wife said, “It’s almost dark. I don’t know what you’re going to be able to do.” I said, “Well, I’ve got to try.” So we came down. I met with some of my crew and we got out to this whale, just before dark. I got permission from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) to attach a buoy and a light to the whale. We used a pelican light that was held on by a grappling hook. But, then the light came loose. I don’t know how it happened, but it came off. So, we had to reattach the buoy in the dark. Imagine trying to find a whale in the dark. Do you think that’s easy? It’s hard enough in the daytime, so it was really a challenge. It took us a couple of hours to get right up next to this whale; then, Mark (crewmate)…(The rest of this story is told on the embedded/Lynda Lee produced photo/video presentation).

L&L: Where can people go to contact you about your safaris, for information or to schedule a learning experience?
(Captain Dave): Tell your readers they can contact us anytime with questions and to find all kinds of information on cetaceans at our website: At our site you’ll find profiles and promotional materials posted there.

(Note From L&L Correspondent, Deanna Whitney: I was personally very impressed with Captain Dave, his crew, his quest and even with the many great people I met on this tour. One woman, Martee Shabsin, was on her one hundredth safari with Captain Dave, on the day we sailed . Like the man who wrote the foreword to Dave Anderson’s book LILY—A GREY WHALE’S ODYSSEY (Jean-Michel Cousteau) Captain Dave is genuine and knowledgeable, and a true Keeper of the Sea. Hopefully this article will help in some small way with his vision. Thank you Captain Dave for the opportunity to share a safari with you. I really enjoyed it, as the sea and its contents are dear to my heart.)

Stay tuned for more information and links to the Academy Award winning film, THE COVE.

Cove Producer meeting Editor Gordon Richiusa

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About Deanna Whitney