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WHY DO DOLPHINS FOLLOW BOATS

Spinner dolphins are regularly seen in the waters off Kona.  A-Z Animals on why many dolphins
follow boats.  Our snorkel and manta tours are one of the best ways to get out and take in the sea life in
the waters of Hawaii.

Have you ever watched a video of a group of dolphins swimming next to a boat? If so, you probably saw them leaping, diving, splashing and having a ball. As you watched this display you may have wondered: Why do dolphins follow boats? Do they do it just for fun or is there another reason?

While dolphins are known for their intelligence they also have a strong sense of curiosity. This brings up the first reason why they follow boats. The motion of a boat, its sounds, and the disturbance of the water prompt dolphins to go check out the strange object in their habitat. They approach the boat and swim alongside it to study this fast-moving object and observe the people on board. Maybe the people are playing loud music that creates vibrations. These animals are curious and won’t be able to resist checking out the activity. While some other sea creatures would much rather hide or swim away from this commotion, dolphins do the opposite. They like to go investigate!

Not surprisingly, dolphins try to swim as fast as they can. When a dolphin swims in the wake of a boat, its body is carried along on the waves making them move even faster than usual. They burn less energy while achieving a higher speed. In a way, when dolphins follow boats, they are getting a free ride!

Food is another reason they follow boats. Sometimes people on boats are so entertained by these racing dolphins that they throw fish overboard. Once a dolphin gets a reward for following a boat, it is likely to repeat the routine every time it sees large boats, small watercraft, and everything in-between. In addition, sometimes fish are stirred up to the surface by the wake of a boat. This is an easy meal for a dolphin that’s just out having some fun.

Did you know that dolphins have a competitive side? They do! This brings up another reason why they follow boats. Sometimes dolphins of different species are members of the same pod or group. Spinner dolphins and spotted dolphins have been known to congregate together. If they are following a boat, these different species may try to show off their jumping or diving skills to one another. Call it a friendly competition. If the people on board a boat are clapping, calling out to them, and giving them lots of attention, the dolphins are likely to put on their best jumping, flipping routine. Dolphins are friendly animals that love attention.

WHAT TYPES OF BOATS DO THEY FOLLOW?

Dolphins follow boats of all sizes. Boats that create a large wake are especially attractive to them because they can get up a lot of speed by following really close. Speedboats make a lot of noise and move through the water quickly, so they’re a favorite with these swift creatures.

Commercial fishing ships are also enticing to dolphins. The fish being caught by the crew on the ship are the same ones that are appetizing to dolphins. Unfortunately, dolphins sometimes become ensnared in commercial fishing nets as they are investigating this type of ship. A dolphin that gets entangled in a commercial fishing net can die.

A group of dolphins is not going to be as interested in a group of people floating in a canoe, rowboat, or other slow-moving boats. But, their curiosity may get the best of them if they notice the oars dipping in the water. If the people are talking or there is music coming from the watercraft, that is even more reason for these marine mammals to look into the situation.

ARE DOLPHINS EVER HURT WHEN FOLLOWING BOATS?

Dolphins communicate with each other in lots of ways. They whistle as a way of alerting other dolphins of their presence. Marine biologists believe dolphins can recognize individuals by their unique whistle. Mother dolphins and their calves have been known to whistle to each other when they are separated.

Dolphins make clicking sounds in connection with the process of echolocation. A dolphin makes a clicking noise that bounces off objects and other sea creatures all around it. The sound returns to the dolphin giving it a good indication of what is in its surroundings. A dolphin uses echolocation to look for prey, locate other dolphins and stay alert to predators in the area.

Dolphins communicate with their bodies as well. When a dolphin slaps its flippers onto the surface of the water it is signaling to others that there is danger in the area. They sometimes slap their tails onto the water when they want to play or are feeling hungry. When two males bump into each other repeatedly it is a sign of aggression. A male that does this may be defending its young or its mate. One dolphin hitting or bumping its teeth on the back or side of another dolphin is also signaling aggression. It’s not biting the other dolphin; it’s just giving it a warning to keep away.

Leaping into the air is a sign that a dolphin is feeling happy, or they are feeling especially playful.

Spy hopping is another behavior of dolphins. When a dolphin spy hops it pushes itself about halfway up out of the water. It moves its tailfin so it can ‘sit up’ for several seconds. They spy hop because they want to get into a position where they can see their surroundings better. A dolphin may do this to look at the people or items on a passing boat. Furthermore, these animals may be seen spy-hopping if they are checking out their surroundings for predators such as great white sharksbull sharks, or tiger sharks.