This dolphin is not humping this girl

by • September 1, 2012 • Dolphin ScienceComments Off11549

A video with the salacious title “Dolphin humps girl” went viral over the past couple of weeks, prompting the Daily Mail to post a play-by-play of the incident. But in suggesting that the “amorous” dolphin was attracted to the woman in the video and that this caused the alleged “humping” behavior, the Daily Mail has got it all wrong.

The whole incident appears to be a well-trained/rehearsed routine, orchestrated to look like the lustful dolphin suddenly pounced on the woman of his /her own volition. But this is unlikely to be the case. If you watch the above video, you can see the trainer (the guy in the red and white outfit) position the woman correctly on the edge of the floating platform. He then signals the dolphin to jump up by raising his right hand (the one with the camera in it) at 0:06. The dolphin lands on the woman and proceeds to kick its tail while the woman is trapped under its weight. Once the trainer goes to retrieve a fish from a bucket placed behind the woman, the dolphin stops the behavior and returns to the water with his mouth open in order to collect his reward for having performed the behavior correctly.

It looks like this same dolphin facility – purportedly in Cuba  – has been offering this trick for a while, with a handful of other videos on YouTube showing similar dolphin-mounts-woman behaviors. Check it out here and maybe at a different facility here. UPDATE: After some Googling, I think I’ve identified the facility as Delfinario Varadero.

Clearly the dolphin in this video is only doing what it has been trained to do, without any idea that the act involved is supposed to be “sexual” in nature. While dolphins have been known to engage in (sometimes aggressive) socio-sexual encounters with human swimmers (more info here), that is not what is happening in this video.

The Daily Mail attempted to make a connection between the not-really-sexual sexual behavior of the dolphin in this video, and the research from this peer-reviewed article describing the complex social networks observed in Indo Pacific bottlenose dolphins in Shark Bay Australia. But trying to make a connection between a video of a dolphin trained to jump on a tourist and studies of dolphin social behavior in the wild is equivalent to saying that this video of a bear riding a bicycle in a Chinese circus is related to this article on diurnal foraging habits of brown bears in British Columbia. Nonsense.

The behavior seen in this video might have originated as a kind of cute dolphin “hug” when trainers first came up with the idea, but it certainly devolved into something that looks like dolphins “sexually assaulting” people. And of course the media’s predictable reaction is helping to spread the nonsensical idea that a dolphin is a “sexual predator of the seas who resorts to rape to get his way,” another headline courtesy of the Daily Mail. Check out a takedown of the Daily Mail’s nonsensical dolphin-rape news item by @BehavEcology to see why this constitutes questionable science journalism. And check out my own post on the myth of dolphin rape.

This is probably not going to be the last video of a dolphin mounting tourists that we see on YouTube. That’s unfortunate really, since dolphins simulating sexual acts with tourists is both in poor taste and counterproductive to conservationists’ and scientists’ goals of educating the public about dolphin behavior and ecology. One “Dolphin humps girl” video is worth about 1 million scientific articles in terms of impact on public perception of dolphin behavior, with this particular video perpetuating the myth that dolphins are (loveable) sexual miscreants. In any event, you can’t pin the blame on the dolphin in this video – he (or she) is only doing what he (or she) has been trained to do.

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