In the last week, a video called “Dana Point Dolphin Stampede” has been generating tanker-loads of views and also tons of controversy. Shot from a whale-watching boat based here in my home town of Dana Point, California, it shows hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dolphins swimming around the boat. And perhaps it’s because of the poorly chosen “stampede” that’s kicking up the kerfuffle, but the video has stirred emotions from disgust to dismay.
The footage has led some to fall under the impression that the dolphins were being frightened or even struck by the vessel, even though common dolphins are known to approach boats in large numbers and veteran ocean-goers witness this type of event fairly frequently.
“I want to know why the boat didn’t stop instead of plowing through those dolphins? I wonder how many of them got hit,” reads a comment beneath a video report on the Weather Channel website.
A Discovery News report stated: “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. As one YouTube commenter asks: ‘Do you really have to drive your boat through the middle of them?’ ”
Seriously, people? Do you know nothing about dolphins? These are some of the most intelligence creatures on earth and some of the most powerful and playful swimmers. They aren’t lemmings, driven by some frantic sense of panic to throw themselves suicidally in front of a tourist boat. In fact, boat surfing is an extremely common dolphin activity, and if they had GoPros and underwater internet that would be the first video subject to go viral.
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,” said the researcher, who has been amid pods of up to 10,000 common dolphins.
The media is complicit in taking an awe-inspiring glimpse of nature and turning into something it’s not, regurgitating the word stampede and implying that the dolphin action is the work of fear. Discovery, the Huffington Post, ABC, Chicago Tribune, Daily Mail, and many more all reported on the video and called it a stampede. A website called The Coming Crisis ran the video under “Unexplained+Weird” phenomena. Apparently, nobody thinks for themselves any more, or, if they do, they aren’t doing a very good job of it. It reminds of when the world went crazy over Garrett McNamara’s “world record” wave in Portugal when the wave was anything but a world record. I know, I know, it’s like complaining about the wind…
Perhaps humor is the only appropriate response. Wrote one commenter, “I want to know which direction they were going, so that I can order a trip in the same direction. This has Armageddon written all over it.”
Environmental coverage made possible in part by support from Patagonia. For information on Patagonia and its environmental efforts, visit www.patagonia.com.
Additional reporting by Pete Thomas/GrindTV.