Did Dolphins Save a Swimmer From a Shark?

There's some contradictory evidence out there

Shark fin
Do things get testy when sharks and dolphins converge?
Getty Images

What can you expect when dolphins and sharks occupy the same waters — peaceful coexistence or something a bit more violent? The title of one recent National Geographic documentary — Sharks vs. Dolphins: Blood Battle — suggests the latter, but other documented events in nature offer a broader range of interactions, from the contentious to the mild-mannered.

Earlier this year, a photographer in Florida documented a shark biting a dolphin’s tail — but its goal wasn’t about making a meal of the dolphin as much as it was about making off with the fish the dolphin planned on eating. A more contentious interactions between species was filmed off the coast of South Africa, where a pod of dolphins banded together to drive off a great white shark — a classic case of strength in numbers.

And there’s a case that was documented in another nature documentary, this one titled Saved From a Shark. As Live Science reported, the film documented the experience of one man who was swimming in the Red Sea when a mako shark attacked him until the arrival of a group of dolphins drove the shark away. The swimmer credits the dolphins with saving his life.

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Atlas Obscura’s summer courses kick off on Monday, starting with marine biologist Melissa Cristina Márquez’s “The Truth About Sharks”

Some of the experts cited in the documentary feel that the dolphins were acting less out of altruism and more to protect their own lives. In other words, saving a human life might have been a side effect, but the dolphins were really out to protect their own community.

Until we’ve worked out a way to communicate with whales and dolphins, we’re unlikely to know exactly what their motivations are. And it’s also possible that if that theoretical method of communication does come to pass, dolphins might have a few other things they’d like to bring up to us humans.

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