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Short-finned pilot whale encounters with human swimmers


During human-dolphin in-water encounters, dolphins initiate a variety of behaviors which are directed towards human swimmers. Short-finned pilot whales show aggressive as well as passive and curious behaviors in the presence of human swimmers. E.g. during the curious behavior 'encircling' mostly one or two pilot whale/s swim/s around a swimmer in circles at the water surface for several times. The radius is <3m. Click to see some of these behaviors on video.

Foto Click to hear click trains directed towards a human swimmer (.mp3 file with 0.25 MB)


Click to see a spectacular in-water interaction with a single pilot whale (.mov file with 6.3 MB). The whale emits unusual vocalizations and seems to be very excited.


Click to see a group of short-finned pilot whales underwater in close range to the swimmer (.mov file with 7.2 MB). Several times the whales echolocate towards the swimmer.


Own research ( revealed a variety of 11 interactive behaviors initiated by free-ranging pilot whales and directed towards human swimmers. Though nearly all behaviors seemed to be affiliative and curious (e.g., other researchers observed aggressive behaviors directed towards human swimmers (e.g. jaw-clapping).

Foto Click for an overview of video examples of interactive behaviors addressed towards human swimmers

Foto In May 1992 a swimmer entered waters south off Hawaii and swam with a group of short-finned pilot whales. During the encounter one whale dramatically changed its behavior and finally attacked the swimmer by opening its mouth and grabing the swimmer's inner left thigh. Seconds later the human swimmer was drowned to 40 feet below the surface. Finally, the swimmer was brought back to the water surface. The scenario was filmed underwater and can be viewed on YouTube ( woman survived this life-threatening attack. Besides this aggressive interaction with a free-ranging animal, a captive pilot whale was reported to progressively initiate more violent attacks on humans entering its tank.