Marine mammals seeking human company

I’m delighted to announce that a new book chapter which I co-authored with Mark P Simmonds is now available in the book “Marine Mammals: the Evolving Human Factor” edited by Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara and Bernd Würsig and published by Springer. The chapter is called “Marine Mammals Seeking Human Company” and it explores those interactions between marine mammals and people in which the animals seem to choose to connect with us. Some well-documented examples are considered, and particular attention given to the phenomenon of “solitary-sociable dolphins,” of which more than three dozen have been recorded since 2008. The history of these “friendly” animals reveals that they are often exposed to harmful, and even lethal, interactions, underlining the need to manage their circumstances better, including trying to prevent them from becoming habituated to human company in the first place. The case studies explored include the histories of Springer and Luna, orcas (Orcinus orca) that became separated from their natal pods when very young, Hvaldimir, a beluga (Delphinapterus leucas), who had once been a captive, and Fungie, a common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), who lived alone for thirty-six years in a small bay in Ireland. The stories of Springer and Hvaldimir show that repatriation to the wild is at times possible for such animals. Some “friendly” pinnipeds seeking human company have also been recorded with examples including a monk seal (Monachus monachus) in Samos, Greece and numerous friendly gray seals (Halichoerus grypus) in the United Kingdom. Three other categories of interactions are also described: cooperative fishing (where dolphins and fishermen act in collaboration to the advantage of both), other solicitations of human assistance (instances where animals have approached swimmers or divers to assist them in removing something from their bodies), and food-sharing (where animals pass food to people). Some of the behaviors reported reflect the high-cognitive ability of the marine mammals concerned. Combined with the associated highly social nature of many small cetaceans, which can even extend to animals outside of their own species, this may help to explain why they sometimes form associations with people.