If you’ve heard a story about dolphins rescuing a person at the ocean, you’re not the only one. For thousands of years, dolphins have interacted with humans in several ways that most animals do not. For example, what other animal helps fishers do their job? The intelligence of these cetaceans, highly developed and similar in some aspects to that of humans, places them in a position that no other species have.

A quick glance in the media shows a considerable amount of people who claims to have lived an incredible experience, in which a dolphin or a group of dolphins saves them from the danger that the sea involves, even without realizing it. Do you want to know some?

Why saving humans if they are different species? There are some theories.


In 2002, a 36-year-old Australian man named Grant Dickson was fishing in northern Queensland along with other people. Hours later the vessel collapsed in the water, and Dickson found himself alone in the middle of the ocean, holding only to the remainings of the boat. He had some wounds bleeding profusely, and with horror, he discovered a group of sharks swimming around him. However, he watched with amazement how a pod of dolphins began to circle him, scaring away the sharks they might have attacked them by confusing his legs with some prey because of the blood. In the end, Grant Dickson was rescued safe and sound.

In 2004, a group of lifeguards and a young woman from New Zealand were training at sea when a white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) about 3 meters in length suddenly appeared in front of them. But fortunately soon a small pod of dolphins arrived surrounding the group and the woman. They waved their tails and created lots of noise to dissuade the shark from attack them until it decided to go away.

Todd Endris, a 24-year-old surfer, was practicing his favorite sport on August 28, 2007. He could not imagine that moments later a great white shark was going to wallop him and then gave him two severe bites. The terrified young man saw his death close when suddenly about 15 bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) appeared and surrounded him to form a barrier between him and the shark. This protection allowed Todd to get safely to the shore, although with severe wounds from what he later recovered.

Hardy Jones is a wildlife activist. In 2003 he was filming a pod of dolphins when he realized that a shark approached him. Maybe he would have to get attacked if four dolphins had not approached to protect him.

In 2004, five British scuba divers were adrift in the Red Sea with no more company than the animals around. They feared dying right there until a boat rescued them. They believe that dolphins deserve their gratitude since the crew of the rescuing boat said they saw a group of these cetaceans swimming in the direction of divers, probably to draw attention to that place.


Dolphins show behaviors at times similar to that of humans. In the wild they usually help the sick pod mates, supporting them to reach the surface so they can breathe. Females are loving mothers devoted to their offspring while they feed on breast milk and even long time after weaning.

But, why do dolphins save humans, if they are a different species? Many theories exists that try to explain the reason, but until now none is widely accepted.

Researchers think that sometimes the relationship between humans and dolphins have nothing to do with empathy and rather it is a symbiotic relationship of help-reward. A sample of this is the case of dolphins which help fishers to find fish or other prey since, in the end, these cetaceans receive a portion of the fish obtained. The question here is why did they begin to do this if no one taught them?

The act of defending humans from an animal that can attack them, like sharks, is similar to the behavior of mothers protecting their offspring. Many disabled swimmers or divers claim that were held and transported to the surface with the aid of a dolphin, action used with other cetaceans.

Another explanation may be related to the comparison between body characteristics of dolphins and humans since both are intelligent mammals. Thanks to its sense of echolocation, a dolphin can hear the heartbeat and realize when a person is helpless. It is the moment when they act as they would do it with a mate.

There are only two cetacean attacks on record against people, one from a killer whale that confused a surfboard for a seal and the other by a cranky dolphin mother who had just given birth and its calf was taken away from her.


In Greek and old sea stories, there are dozens of claims of dolphins helping drowning sailors, rescuing people from sharks, and making themselves useful as guides through treacherous waters.

Dolphins and other cetaceans also help injured members of their family groups and newborn babies to the surface by swimming under them and nudging upward, just as some reports describe them doing with humans. Interestingly, there are some real stories of dolphins helping other cetaceans. In 1983 at Tokerau Beach, Northland, New Zealand, a pod of pilot whales ran aground during ebb tide. The Zealanders who lived there came out and did their best to keep the whales alive, sponging their skin and calming them, until the tide came back in. But even then the whales were having trouble orienting themselves.

Dolphins came to the rescue. Somehow, a pod of dolphins who were nearby figured out what was happening. They swam into the shallows, putting themselves at risk, and “herded” the pilot whales out to sea, saving 76 of 80 whales. Five years earlier, a similar incident had occurred at Whangarei harbor. If dolphins are smart enough to help other cetaceans in that manner, why not humans.


Several years ago, in the Gulf of Akaba, a British tourist was rescued by three dolphins from sharks. Near the Sinai Peninsula, a ship captain had stopped his boat so several passengers could watch dolphins playing. Three of the passengers decided to swim with them, and one stayed a little longer than the others. To his horror, he was bitten by a shark – and more were coming. Suddenly, three dolphins placed themselves between the tourist and the sharks, smacking the water with their tails and flippers, driving the sharks off until the crew rescued the man.

In 2004, a ten-foot great white shark confronted a group of swimmers off the northern coast of new Zealand. A pod of dolphins “herded” them together, circling them until the great white fled. There are several other examples from the area of Australia about similar incidences.

In another case in the Red Sea, twelve divers lost for thirteen and a half hours were surrounded by dolphins for the entire time, repelling the many sharks that live in the area. When a rescue boat appeared, it seemed that the dolphins were showing them where the divers were, leaping in the air in front of them.

As we can’t talk to dolphins, we can’t understand what their motives are in these situations. It is, however, very possible that they are indeed trying to help and protect fellow mammals in the ocean to safety. If this is true, it means that they are the only animals, besides humans, which show true altruism.