Dana Wharf Whale Watching has been making headlines recently because of a video the landing uploaded on Feb. 23, titled "Dana Point Dolphin Stampede." It shows perhaps 2,000 common dolphins swimming and porpoising with high energy alongside the Dana Pride as it plowed through the water off the Orange County coast (see video below.)
But some of the comments attached to the YouTube video or website reports -- and, in at least one case, the report itself -- have unfairly implied that the Dana Pride captain was frightening or endangering the mammals.
Apparently, many people are not familiar with a phenomenon that is spectacular, but not uncommon. Common dolphins are famous for chasing after boats -- often from great distances -- to swim in their wakes and leap alongside them.
I've witnessed this behavior dozens of times. In fact, dolphin encounters of this nature are a staple of the Southern California whale-watching industry, although pods are often much smaller.
So I was surprised to see this passage in a Discovery News blog report posted Tuesday: "Contrary to the idea that the dolphins are having a grand ol' time, it's more likely that the noise, vibration and water turbulence caused by the boat may have frightened the dolphins, which all reacted at once."
The next sentence reads, "As one YouTube commenter asks: 'Do you really have to drive your boat through the middle of them?' "
The reality is, when large pods of common dolphins are close to a moving boat, it's virtually impossible to avoid these types of encounters. The mammals do seem to enjoy the interaction, and they're amazingly adept at avoiding moving vessels.
Southern California researcher Alisa Schulman-Janiger, who has spent years studying local marine mammals, said she has never witnessed common dolphins exhibiting what resembles a negative reaction to a boat.
"They either ignore the boat, usually if they're feeding, or they race over to the boat," the researcher said.
Donna Kalez, who manages Dana Wharf Whale Watching, said misleading comments have appeared elsewhere, too, such as beneath a video report posted recently on the Weather Channel website.
One of them reads, "I want to know why the boat didn't stop instead of plowing through those dolphins? I wonder how many of them got hit."
The answer, almost assuredly, is zero.
-- Pete Thomas