Dolphins and Porpoises

Baiji or Chinese River Dolphin

Bottlenose Dolphin
Dall's Porpoise
Harbor Porpoise
Hector's Dolphin
Indo-Pacific Hump-Back Dolphin
Irrawaddy Dolphin
Northern Right Whale Dolphin
Orca or Killer Whale
Pacific White-Sided Dolphin
Risso's Dolphin
Spinner Dolphin
Vaquita Porpoise

Dolphins and Whales Rescuing Humans

We often read in the news about humans rescuing stranded, entangled, sick, or injured whales and dolphins, but did you know that these animals do their fair share of lifesaving too?

Dolphins & Whales Saving People
Ancient Greek historian Plutarch wrote: "To the dolphin alone, beyond all others, nature has given what the best philosophers seek; friendship for no advantage. Though it has no need of man, yet it is a friend to all men and has often given them great aid."

Missing swimmer found surrounded by pod of dolphins
2021 – Ireland
A swimmer stranded at sea for over 12 hours was surrounded by a pod of bottlenose dolphins, which helped volunteers locate and rescue the man.

Friendly dolphin shields diving couple from shark
2021 – Hawaii
Two divers were swimming with a rough-toothed dolphin when a curious shark appeared. The dolphin swam around the divers and vocalized until the shark left the area.

“A whale saved my life.”
2017 – Cook Islands
A humpback whale protected a whale biologist from an aggressive tiger shark. Remarkably, the woman was reunited with the whale that saved her life a year later.

Dolphins save teenager from drowning
2014 – California
Bottlenose dolphins led a team of researchers to a girl lost at sea with a suicide note in her pocket.

Swimmer gets hour-long dolphin escort after shark sighting
2014 – New Zealand
Marathon swimmer Adam Walker sees a shark beneath him while swimming across the Cook Strait. Then a pod of 10 dolphins suddenly joins him until the shark disappears.

Fisherman lost at sea given hope by a dolphin
2014 – Gulf of Mexico
A visit from a “porpoise” (likely a dolphin) encourages fisherman Joey Trevino to not lose hope after his boat sank and he was lost at sea for 30 hours.

Beluga whale saves diver
2009 – China
During a freediving competition in the arctic tank at an aquarium in China, a distressed diver is guided to the surface by Mila the beluga whale, saving her life.

Dolphins save Puerto Princesa fisherman
2008 – Philippines
A pod of dolphins, and possibly even pilot whales, save a local fisherman from drowning after his small boat overturns during a squall.  Making the story even more unique, the fisherman is also an official dolphin warden who promotes dolphin and whale shark watching as a tourist attraction in his town.

Dolphins save surfer from becoming shark’s bait
2007 – California
A pod of bottlenose dolphins form a protective ring around a surfer that had just been severely mauled by a great white shark allowing him to get to shore, saving his life.

Did dolphins save injured diver?  Rescued diver tells of epic 56-hour struggle to survive
2006 – Channel Islands (England/France)
Dolphins draw rescuers’ attention to a lone scuba diver knocked unconscious after being hit by a boat, saving his life.

Dolphins save boaters in 2004 tsunami
2004 – Thailand
Chris Cruz, a scuba diving instructor and trip leader was out at sea, just off of Khao Lak, north of Phuket in Thailand, with diving crews when the tsunami hit. He says he was saved because he followed dolphins to safety.

Dolphins save swimmers from shark
2004 – New Zealand
Dolphins surround a group of swimmers protecting them from a nearby great white shark, preventing an attack.

Dolphins led rescue boat to us, say divers lost in Red Sea
2004 – Red Sea
Thirteen divers lost at sea for 13½ hours believe that dolphins led the rescue boat to them.

‘Dolphins saved me from sharks’
2002 – Australia
A fisherman stranded in the ocean for over 40 hours after his boat sank is saved from a potential shark attack by a pod of dolphins.

Elian says dolphins saved his life
2000 – Florida/Cuba
Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban boy that was at the center of an international custody dispute, says dolphins saved his life by helping him stay above water and cling to an inner tube after the boat he was travelling in sank.

Dolphin saves boy’s life
2000 – Italy
Filippo the friendly dolphin saves a 14 year-old boy from drowning after he falls off of his father’s boat.

Diver bitten by mako shark is saved by dolphins
1996 – Red Sea
A swimmer was bitten several times by a mako shark and lost over 5 pints of blood. A pod of dolphins entered the area and scared the shark away.

Three dolphins rescue tourist from sharks
1996 - Gulf of Akaba
A British tourist is shielded by a group of dolphins during a shark attack.

Dolphins to the rescue -- again!
1983 – New Zealand
A pod of dolphins guides 76 stranded pilot whales back out to sea after rescue attempts by humans fail.

Dolphins to the rescue
1978 – New Zealand
In Whangarei Harbour in New Zealand in 1978, fifty pilot whales attempted to beach themselves. Government officials tried to encourage the whales back into the sea but unfortunately failed. The officials went out on speedboats and guided a passing group of dolphins back into the harbour. When they arrived, the dolphins seemed to see the plight the whales were in and guided the whales toward open water.

Dick Van Dyke:  Pod of porpoises saved me from death after I fell asleep on my surfboard
Date not specified – Virginia
As a youth, actor Dick Van Dyke was rescued by porpoises after falling asleep on his surfboard and drifting out to sea. At first he thought he was surrounded by sharks, but they turned out to be porpoises, and they pushed him all the way back to shore.

Dolphins saved my life
Date not specified – South Carolina
A young girl was taken for the ride of her life on the back of a dolphin, keeping her away from a nearby shark.

Saved from drowning and probable shark attack by a “porpoise” (dolphin)
1960 – Grand Bahama Island
More recently, on the night of February 29, 1960, Mrs. Yvonne M. Bliss of Stuart fell
from a boat off the east coast of Grand Bahama Island in the West Indies.' "After floating, swimming, shedding more clothing for what seemed an eternity, I saw a form in the water to the left of me. ... It touched the side of my hip and, thinking it must be a shark, I moved over to the right to try to get away from it. This change in my position was to my advantage as heretofore I was bucking a cross tide and the waves would wash over my head and I would swallow a great deal of water. This sea animal which I knew by this time must be a porpoise had guided me so that I was being carried with the tide. "After another eternity and being thankful that my friend was keeping away the sharks and barracuda for which these waters are famous, the porpoise moved back of me and came around to my right side. I moved over to give room to my companion and later knew that had not the porpoise done this, I would have been going downstream to deeper and faster moving waters. The porpoise had guided me to the section where the water was the most shallow. Shortly I touched what felt like fish netting to my feet. It was seaweed and under that the glorious and most welcome bottom. As I turned toward shore, stumbling, losing balance, and saying a prayer of thanks, my rescuer took off like a streak on down the channel."

-From “The Dolphin in History”

Saved from drowning by a dolphin
1945 – Florida
In 1945 the wife of a well-known trial attorney residing in Florida was saved from drowning by a dolphin. This woman had stepped into a sea with a strong undertow and was immediately dragged under. Just before losing consciousness, she remembers hoping that someone would push her ashore. "With that, someone gave me a tremendous shove, and I landed on the beach, face down, too exhausted to turn over . . . when I did, no one was near, but in the water almost eighteen feet out a porpoise was leaping around, and a few feet beyond him another large fish was also leaping." In this case the porpoise was almost certainly a dolphin and the large fish a fishtail shark. A man who had observed the events from the other side of a fence told the rescued woman that this was the second time he had seen a drowning person saved by a "porpoise."

-From “The Dolphin in History”

World War II rescue
World War II – Pacific Ocean
The dolphin's extraordinary interest in and, what we will I am sure not be far wrong in interpreting as, concern for human beings, is dramatically told by George Llano in his report Airmen Against the Sea. This report, written on survival at sea during the Second World War, records the experience of six American airmen, shot down over the Pacific, who found themselves in a seven-man raft being pushed by a porpoise toward land. Unfortunately the land was an island held by the Japanese. The friendly porpoise must have been surprised and hurt when he found himself being dissuaded from his pushing by being beaten of with the oars of the airmen.

-From “The Dolphin in History”

Vietnam rescue
18th century - Vietnam
The Vietnamese navy was assisted by a pod of dolphins that helped rescue sailors whose boat was sunk by Chinese invaders. Since then the Vietnamese people have worshiped dolphins and whales and erected a building called the "Temple of the Whale."

Dolphins and Whales Saving Other Animals

Humpback whales protect seal from orcas
2022 – Adelaide Island, Antarctica
Humpback whales disrupted a hunting event by trumpeting and physically blocking a seal from orcas.

Orcas free humpback whale trapped in net
2022 – Bremer Bay, Australia
A pod of orcas freed a humpback whale entangled in fishing nets.

Humpback whales intervene in killer whale hunt
2012 – Monterey Bay, California
Whalewatchers and researchers observe humpback whales trying to protect
a gray whale calf being hunted by orcas.

Dolphin helps save life of doberman
2011 – Florida
A dolphin alerts humans to a lost dog stuck in a canal for 15 hours, saving its life.

Save the Seal!  Whales act instinctively to save seals
2009 – Antarctica
Research scientists observe humpback whales protecting seals being attacked by killer whales.

Dolphin appears to rescue whales
2008 – New Zealand
Moko the bottlenose dolphin successfully leads stranded pygmy sperm whale mother and calf back out to sea after several unsuccessful rescue attempts by humans.

Dolphins rescue sea lion from killer whales
1978 – Unspecified location
Sailors on board a fishing vessel from the USSR in 1978 heard a sea lion calling while they were sailing. They noticed that the sea lion was surrounded by several killer whales and almost seemed to be calling for help. Within a few minutes a number of dolphins appeared and the whales moved away. And a little later when the dolphins left, the whales returned and made a rush towards the sea lion. The dolphins quickly returned, leaped over the top of the whales’ heads and then formed a protective circle around the sea lion. The sea lion was spared.

Ancient Stories, Myths, and Fables:

1) An early literary reference to the dolphin occurs in Aesop's fable, "The Monkey and the Dolphin." During a violent storm a ship was capsized, and among those thrown into the water was a monkey. Observing its distress a dolphin came to its rescue, and taking the monkey upon its back the dolphin headed for shore. Opposite Piraeus, the harbor of Athens, the dolphin inquired of the monkey whether he was an Athenian. "Oh, yes," replied the monkey, "and from one of the best families." "Then you know Piraeus," said the dolphin. "Very well, indeed," said the monkey, "he is one of my most intimate friends." Whereupon, outraged by so gross a deceit, the dolphin took a deep dive
and left the monkey to its fate.

-From “The Dolphin in History”

2) The cult of Apollo Delphinus was initiated, so legend has it, by Icadius who, leaving his native land of Lycia, which he had named for his mother, set out for Italy. Shipwrecked on the way, he was taken on the back of a dolphin, which set him down near Mount Parnassus, where he founded a temple to his father Apollo, and called the place Delphi after the dolphin. For this reason the dolphin became among the things most sacred to Apollo.

-From “The Dolphin in History”

3) According to Plutarch, for example, a native of the Greek island of Paros once found some fishermen about to kill some dolphins they had caught, and bargained for their release. Some time later, while sailing between Paros and the neighbouring island of Naxos, his boat overturned in a storm. Of the crew, he alone survived, rescued by a dolphin that carried him on its back to the nearby shore.

4) Christianity in turn seems to have taken and adapted several of the Greek myths for its own ends. No fewer than five of the early Christian saints are deemed to have been rescued by dolphins. The most colorful of these is undoubtedly St Martinian the Hermit, who, to avoid temptation by a woman, could find no escape but to throw himself into the sea, from which an obliging dolphin carried him on its back to the shore.

5) The Greek writer Herodotus tells the story of Arion, a lyre-player from Methymna employed by Periander, King of Corinth. Arion is a talented and innovative musician whose performances around the Mediterranean have made him extremely rich. Sailing home from a lucrative tour of Italy to his native Corinth, his crew turn on him, threatening to throw him overboard and take his money. Arion tries to bargain for his life but the crew will have none of it and give him a choice: either he kills himself or they throw him over the side. Arion, for reasons that Herodotus doesn't really explain, asks if he might sing one last song. The crew agree - after all, why turn down a free farewell concert from the best singer in the known world? As the last note dies away, Arion leaps into the sea. The ship sails on, but instead of drowning, Arion is rescued by a school of dolphins that have been beguiled by the beauty of his music and carry him to shore. He makes his way back to Corinth and tells his story to King Periander, who cannot believe it. The plot is eventually uncovered when the ship arrives and the crew swear that they left Arion alive and well in Italy.

6) Taras, son of Neptune, founded a city called Tarento on the spot he was carried to safety by a dolphin.

7) It is also said that Telemachus, son of Ulysses, fell into the water as a child. He was rescued by dolphins. Thereafter, Ulysses wore a ring engraved with the image of dolphins. The dolphin was sacred to the Greeks, and they would never dream of harming a dolphin.