Dolphin-Assisted Birth—Possibly The Worst Idea, Ever.

By Christie Wilcox | May 26, 2013 4:57 pm

I consider myself to be a fairly grounded person, so I’m rarely shocked by anything I see on the internet. But then, this tweet by Emily Anthes appeared in my stream:

O_o.

The couple planning to do this are entirely serious—and they won’t be the first to travel to Hawaii for a dolphin-assisted birth. My professional opinion: this has to be, hands down, one of the worst natural birthing ideas anyone has ever had (and that is saying a lot).

I know they’re pretty, but really, you don’t want these guys to play midwife. Photo by Flickr user docklander

Let’s talk about dolphins for a moment. I get it — they’re stunning creatures. These sleek, smart, playful animals are almost universally loved by people. Dolphin interactive experiences are hot sellers at tourist locations worldwide, and we naturally want to trust their cheeky, smiling faces. So many people I know got into marine science because of their affinity for dolphins and other marine mammals. I understand why a to-be mother might want to calm her nerves by having a dolphin in the tub during an underwater birth. I can even stretch my imagination and see why a woman would enjoy swimming with a pod of dolphins and giving birth while watching the beautiful displays of these majestic animals.

But, DEAR GOD. NO. JUST. NO.

Because of their friendly disposition and common occurance in aquariums, we tend to think of dolphins as trustworthy, loving creatures. But let’s get real for a minute here. Dolphins don’t eat sunshine and fart roses. They’re wild animals, and they are known to do some pretty terrible things.

Look at how their treat their women. Male dolphins are aggressive, horny devils. Males will kidnap and gang-rape females with their prehensile penises, using alliances of several males to keep females isolated from the rest of the group. As Miriam Goldstein once explained to Slate, “To keep her in line, they make aggressive noises, threatening movements, and even smack her around with their tails. And if she tries to swim away, they chase her down.” Male dolphins don’t just rape their females — they’ve also been known to assert authority by forcibly mounting other males.

They also get a kick out of beating on and killing other animals. Dolphins will toss, beat, and kill small porpoises or baby sharks for no apparent reason other than they enjoy it, though some have suggested the poor porpoises serve as practice for killing the infants of rival males. That’s right, not only do dolphins kill other animals, they kill baby dolphins using the same brutal tactics. No matter how cute they might appear, dolphins are not cuddly companions; they are real, large, ocean predators with a track record for violence — even when it comes to humans.

Just ask Michael Maes, an underwater videographer who has seen first hand just how dangerous dolphins can be. While diving in Grand Cayman, Maes describes a local dolphin nicknamed “Stinky” attempting to ride him and push him to the ground. The animal then turned toward Maes’ friend Alex, circling him, prodding him, and rubbing against him, finally trying to roll on top of him and push him to the surface. “Stinky is in an awkward situation which can turn him into a playful killer-machine,” Michael wrote on his YouTube page. “Please be prudent people and get out of the water when you see him. Believe me, if he decides, you don’t stand the slightest chance!”

Imagine if, instead of trained scuba divers, Michael or Alex were snorkelers, one of them in labor or carrying a newborn infant.

Maes certainly isn’t the first to be roughhoused by a dolphin. Videos of inapropriate behavior can be found all over YouTube, from both captive and wild dolphins. Attacks range from playful to downright perilous, especially when the dolphin decides to push its human toy deep underwater. But a dolphin doesn’t need depth to be dangerous — or even deadly. Off a beach in Brazil, two men saw a dolphin near to shore, and excited by the animal’s presence, decided to approach it. When they touched the apparently friendly dolphin, it flipped out and rammed both the men with serious force. One of the men later died of internal injuries.

Is this an animal you want to have at your side when you’re completely vulnerable?

What would you do if the dolphin does get aggressive, decides to attack the mother or even the newly-emerged baby? How would you protect either from a three-to-four hundred pound animal with lightning speed and agility that is more at home in the environment than you are? And that’s just the dolphin side of things. What if something goes wrong with the birth in general? What if the baby gets stuck, or the mother starts hemorrhaging? Do you really want to be deep in the ocean if something happens?

The Sirius Institute, where the couple is headed, claims that a natural dolphin-assisted birth is completely safe. “Some of the reported occurrences include a mother and a baby playing with the dolphins within 45 minutes of the birth,” claims the site, “another instance of a free dolphin escorting a newborn human baby to the surface for its first breath.” They claim that wild dolphins will come into shallower pools, massaging the mother to help deliver the child, but they don’t have any evidence to back up these claims. When Penn and Teller talked to the institute, they found that none of the mothers which came to Sirius actually went through with the ocean birth. Somehow, I’m not surprised.

The basis for the institutes’ claims seems to be that dolphin-assisted therapy (DAT) is relaxing and soothing. But, according to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation, “there is no scientific evidence to prove that the therapy is effective,” furthermore, “both people and animals can be exposed to infection and injury when participating in these programs.” Dr. Lori Marino takes the criticism even further. “Nearly a decade following our initial review, there remains no compelling evidence that DAT is a legitimate therapy or that it affords any more than fleeting improvements in mood.”

Swimming with dolphins programs may actually be harming wild populations. Photo by Flicr user Dominic

Even if dolphin-assisted births were safe or good for people, no one seems to be asking how the dolphins feel about it. More than 40,000 people swim with dolphins every year, and there is growing concern that such programs are negatively impacting dolphin populations. “Research indicates that, in some areas heavily targetted by commercial swim tours and other human activities, dolphins are actually leaving their traditional habitat in favour of quieter areas,” explains the Whale and Dolphin Conservation. “There is concern that disruption to feeding, resting, nursing and other behaviour may have a long-term impact on the health and wellbeing of individuals and populations.” Scientists have found that dolphins have started avoiding people in swim-with-dolphin areas, and operators of such programs show no interest in complying with regulations put in place to protect the animals.

I sincerely hope Adam and Heather reconsider their options. If they want to have a natural birth, that is one thing, but having one in the ocean with wild dolphins is a seriously bad idea for them and the animals they want to have this special bond with.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Evolution, More Science, select, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: Dolphin, Natural Birth, WTF
  • ZachariahWiedeman

    Did you happen to notice that the couple in the Penn & Teller video (7/10/08) look strikingly similar to the couple in the South Charlotte News (5/24/13) article?

  • EricROlson

    Not that I necessarily think dolphin-assisted birth is a good idea, but “they are real, large, ocean predators with a track record for violence — even when it comes to humans.” Humans? Really? A track record of violence? There seems to be one person on record killed by a dolphin. And what the
    author fails to mention is that person and his friend were trying to
    ride and tie objects to the dolphin at the time it “attacked”: http://articles.latimes.com/1994-12-10/news/mn-7182_1_dolphin-kills-swimmer or that it had apparently suffered repeated abused at the hands of other villagers: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ti%C3%A3o Took me about two minutes to find this info.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Skip-Nordenholz/100003613616195 Skip Nordenholz

      Why did you limit you search to people killed only, violence don’t have to include killed.

    • Vacant_Mountain

      So it’s not violence until someone get killed? Getting rammed by a randy, 2.5 metre long living torpedo with its penis out isn’t violence to you? You set a pretty high bar, mate.

      • http://www.facebook.com/ravenbo39 Raven Bo

        Are you kidding me? it is NOT violence if you do something to deserve reaction. For example, if someone threat with a gun and police shoot that person, it is NOT police violence.

        • Vacant_Mountain

          Uh… it is still violence. It might be *justifiable*, but it’s still violence. When someone gets injured, justifiably or not, violence is done.

          I think the word you’re looking for is ‘aggression’, and I can accept that dolphins aren’t necessarily *aggressive* (though, again, when you’re facing a 2.5 metre long living torpedo on its home turf, the line between ‘toy’ and ‘threat’ is pretty blurred). But they *can be* and *are* violent, in the way a Galapagos tortoise is not violent.

  • JohnMcKay

    Meat eaters. Blood in the water. I’m with Eric. What could possibly go wrong?

    • Emkay

      hmmmm, I think sharks react to blood in the water too…

      if this couple chooses to do this, then they are choosing the consequences of whatever happens, so STFU if its bad…

      • Jill

        Should their blameless progeny suffer the consequences if this should end badly?

        • Emkay

          absolutely, progeny should only pick ‘smart parents….

  • https://delicious.com/robertford Robert Ford

    i’m okay with it because i don’t value people who do this at all. if something goes wrong then it doesn’t matter – it’s self selecting.

    • BeatlesFan

      Except the baby doesn’t get a say at all.

      • https://delicious.com/robertford Robert Ford

        yeah, I don’t really value the kid either.

  • Liam Skoda

    Not the worst idea ever. Sharks would probably be slightly worse.

  • Wesley Elsberry

    There’s more to the Brazil incident than the author is telling. The two tourists are portrayed in the article as innocents victimized by a wild dolphin, but various accounts noted the two men had attempted to plug the dolphin’s blowhole, leading to the attacks. That’s more than a “touch”, and something of a justification for “flipping out” in my opinion. The author’s thesis that “dolphin-assisted birth is a bad idea” is readily made without exaggeration, so I’m not sure why Christie chose to use an inappropriate example and leave out relevant data about it. If somebody tries to stopper up all my ways to breathe, I’m likely to get violent myself.

    • http://christiewilcox.com/ Christie Wilcox

      Let me clarify: I by no means am implying the dolphin was wrong for the incident in Brazil. I included the details mentioned in a National Geographic special on dolphin-human interactions (see the link). My point in mentioning it at all is that when a dolphin attacks, it can be fatal, even if the dolphin came into shallow water of its own accord. I don’t blame the dolphin at all for attacking those men, or think it acted wrongly in any way—even if all they had done was touch it. It’s a wild animal, and whenever people interact with wild animals, they are taking risks. Why a pregnant mother would want to take such a risk with a baby is beyond me.

      • Emkay

        maybe they heard that you can invite a dolphin to your house, have beer and popcorn while watching the game in the den….so, its only natural that the dolphin would invite you to come to their ocean to help you have your baby, and of course they know how to boil water….

        this is the most ludicrous thing I’ve heard this year!

      • Christos Themistocles Fotinako

        Christie, then why bother with the example you use. A mid-wife too is likely to become violent if someone attempts to suffocate her. What would that show about her being a wild animal? I agree with your central criticism, but why muddy the waters with irrelevancies. Dolphin assisted births are best left to dolphins.

        One question for you though: are you aware of any studies comparing the number of incidents of infanticide, rape, torture and murder among humans verse those among dolphins? Think about that one next time to you contemplate a human assisted birth.

        If I was dolphin who read your article, and you were being stalked by a shark or drowning, I doubt I’d bother being distracted from my favourite pastime of eating fish. What does “Christie sucks” sound like in dolphin language – click click click!

    • folli

      Yes! They aren’t victims. This dolphin was a Tursiops truncatus, weight about 200 Kg, 2,6 meters…This was an inoffensive creature when close to people that keep respect to the animal, but some people exceeds the limits, trying to ride and put an object in your nose, etc..The animal reacts in self defence.
      greetings from Brazil

  • Alice Parker

    Worst.idea.ever

  • Buddy199

    What’s next, bungee-jumping birth?

    • CooperDawg

      They physics of that might help labor times….

      I kid, I kid!

    • Emkay

      good one! .. it would be quick…for sure…

    • LadyPenny Darkfold

      I love it!

      “EEEAAAGGGHHHH!!” >SPROINNNNGGG!TONNNNGGGGGG-Thud!< "Uh…. Estelle…where's the baby?"

      Don't look down.

      • LadyPenny Darkfold

        Seriously… WHERE is Don Martin now that we need him?

    • Christos Themistocles Fotinako

      Brilliant idea for that one last push out.

  • Ellen K.

    Are these randomly chosen dolphins, or particular know dolphins? Because, I can’t help thinking that pretty much everything said about dolphins is true of humans too. But we let other humans assist at births. We are, though, selective about who.

    • Kate Clayborne

      This is an excellent point. Dolphins are one of the most intelligent creatures on the planet, besides humans, yet the general population (of humans) tends to group them all together as a singular mass, like any other animal. But there are individuals. Some are more aggressive than others, some more intelligent or well-mannered. They have personalities and preferences. Not all dolphins are dicks.

      • AmandaB

        Bottlenosed dolphins in particular are the ones with the reputation for aggression in the wild and in captivity; however, you are correct, not all are bad, but they are much more unpredictable than humans given that they are wild animals. It’s the wild animal factor that we need to keep in mind here. The ‘innocent’ dolphins may be getting a bad wrap, but it’s something no one should really chance if they value the life of their child and as wild animals they have instincts that could take over in a snap.

        • Emkay

          Yeah! who could predict when a dolphin would shoot up a school, killing dozens of kids, or a theatre or a restaurant or university or college or elementary school, or post office,shopping mall, gym, car dealership, or big box store, etc. etc. ad nauseum..
          yep, be on guard, they can snap in an instant.

        • http://www.facebook.com/ravenbo39 Raven Bo

          No animal is BAD lol. For example, video is clearly intentional animal abuse. That dolphin LOVES human and I bet abusive humans knew before they dived.

      • Emkay

        thanks Kate, I’m still laughing….
        “not all Dolphins are dicks”…..hilarious….

  • JonFrum

    I read this as future parents seeing the birth of their child as an opportunity for their own entertainment, like getting married while sky-diving. At least there’s no mention of eating the placenta.

    • Anires Relheo

      placenta encapsulation has real benefits and no risks and there are finally people willing to pay to have it studied at a university level and so far the results are stunning. I ate my placenta after it had been steamed, dried out, ground up, and encapsulated and I HIGHLY HIGHLY recommend it. It is full of nutrients and mother/baby specific hormones and acted as an extremely powerful mood stabilizer. Don’t knock things that have the potential to help new mothers not go crazy in the weeks following birth, they need all the help they can get.

    • Emkay

      thats what sharks and crabs are for….

      • LadyPenny Darkfold

        BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!

    • http://www.facebook.com/ravenbo39 Raven Bo

      Placenta contains stem-cells as various GREAT hormones as well as protein. It probably helps in melting fat and making milks in nature.

  • Karen Deppe

    I agree with Mr Elsberry myself. I read the story about the two men in Brazil. Christie, the author of this article has left out what I think are rather important information concerning the incident. The two men were drunk and tried to pour beer down the dolphins blowhole. They also surrounded the dolphin which is threatening to any wild animal. I was on the dolphin’s side. I also wonder where she gets her information as she mentions only the negative. It is true that dolphins can be aggressive but there are also things about them that are beautiful.
    Karen Deppe

    • Rob Neff

      You might be right, but it still doesn’t make it a good idea to give birth around them. Just being that far from decent medical care is a big concern, let alone what a wild animal might do in the presence of blood and a helpless baby.

    • Randy McDonald

      Inasmuch as we don’t communicate with dolphins and can’t accurately predict how they’re going to behave, doing something crazy around dolphins that immobilizes the human being(s) involved is a terrible idea. How do you think that a dolphin would respond to a human being going into labour next to it?

  • QFAs

    ‘Look at how they treat their women’ ?!?
    Dolphins are not humans. Why is this blogger trying to personify their behaviour? I think she might return to science class, perhaps start with biology 101 . . .

    • Kate Clayborne

      So you’re saying that because they are not human they have the right to abuse and rape one another? Dolphins are living creatures with nervous systems and personalities. The way in which they treat one another is very telling. There was a point in history when we humans were not very different.

      • Emkay

        WHAT!! We are STILL like that Kate, everyday..
        Have another glass and go to bed…..

      • QFAs

        Personification again. It is rape or abuse amongst humans, not in the wild. Do you have any idea of the behaviour among apes, our closer neighbours in the DNA pool ?

        You need to separate the stuffed animal with you sleep from the real thing.

  • Sander Brown

    DAT – trolling level: EPIC

  • AmandaB

    In captivity most of the time dolphins have to be separated from the mother when she is giving birth because the others could attack the newborn at anytime. This seems like a brilliant idea though. Surely dolphins wouldn’t actually hurt humans, especially ones forced to go through these procedures.

  • Karl Mamer

    We have something like this in Canada. It’s polar bear assisted birth. This might explain why Canada has 1/10th America’s population.

    • Emkay

      damn good one!….

    • olafauer

      LOL !

  • IonaTrailer

    I used to live near Pahoa, and I wonder where these people think they’re going to get into the ocean? Kapoho hot ponds are contaminated with E. Coli. The tide pools are full of really sharp coral and vana (sea urchins) with 6 inch spines. Kehena beach is your classic “broke da neck” beach, with rip tides and a super drop-off about 3 feet out.(Lot of poop in the bushes from people living in the jungle too). Kalapana? Same as Kehena. The windward side of Hawaii isn’t Kona. But maybe these idiots have never been to Pahoa before – a town known for its hippies with 4-foot dredlocks, the perennially pregnant girlfriend wearing an emaciated kitten as an item of ornament (because they’re vegan and think the cat should eat papayas too). Or hey, maybe they’ll fit right in.

    • Emkay

      sounds quite picturesque…can’t wait to visit..

  • Sanjosemike

    These “proto-parents” deserve the Darwin Award for stupidity. It’s OK to be a hyper-liberal weirdo, but subjecting a new born baby to that syndrome should be a felony.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ravenbo39 Raven Bo

      Need to think about natural selection lol. Does world benefit from genetic decedent of these parents. Does these parents raise kids right?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Colin-William-Den-Ronden/1375054437 Colin William Den Ronden

    And if there is blood in the water won’t that attract sharks? Maybe singing Kumbaya will drive them off.

  • I_Go_Pogo

    What are the odds these loons belong to PETA ?

  • Emkay

    It took me about 7 minutes to read this article, watch the video and start to read some comments…all of a sudden I realized ‘this is the stupidest crap I’ve read in my life…I want the 7 minutes back…..

  • Randall DiGiuseppe

    Coming soon: dolphin-assisted suicide.

  • http://www.facebook.com/barbararuth Barbara Saunders

    I don’t see how it’s safe to have a baby in open water even without dolphins. A tub is one thing – but while swimming?!

  • Minerva V

    I’m continually amazed at how stupid human beings can be. And these folks who are doing this “dolphin assisted birth” are going to be raising children? Poor child.

  • Eddie

    save the kid and get rid of the parents.

  • KateA

    Some people are so open-minded that they are empty-headed. This is an excellent example of that kind of thinking.

  • oldfarter

    I had a “swim with the dolphins” experience as part of a package tour to Hawai’i. it was all fun and games until the young male dolphin — 15 feet and as big around as a Mini with the power to propel himself by his tail on the top of the water — took an interest in my flipper. He mouthed it like a puppy. Then he took a little pull on it. My experience with dogs told me to get the hell out of there before he decided to take a real bite or give it a hard tug to see if the funny four flipper-ed creature would go down in the water.

    The dive master had everyone get out of the water after I told her I was leaving and why. Wild animal behavior is unpredictable, even animals that have been “habituated” to humans.

    What’s next, “Pitt Bull Assisted Breast Feedings”?

  • BronzeDog

    I’m late getting here, but I very much agree with the sentiments in the article. If I’m at Sea World, surrounded by trainers, I might play with one of their trained dolphins.

    Wild dolphins? No thank you.

    I think dolphins are awesome animals, but I follow a general rule not to trust in “Disneyfied” ideas of nature. Nature isn’t just some field of flowers full of twittering songbirds made as a backdrop for a princess’s musical number. Dolphins are carnivores, and I think it’s prudent to assume their evolution settled on “shark-like torpedo” for a reason.

    The dangers of dolphin encounters are something I’ve known about for a while. What I didn’t know about, but am not surprised by, is the likely impact this friendly dolphin mythos is having on the dolphins. Kind of goes with a theme I’ve sensed with a lot of new age “naturey” things: They end up harming nature through their naive, reckless celebration of it. It also strikes me as kind of like people who want exotic pets but don’t take their special needs into account. Result: Dead pet.

  • Christos Themistocles Fotinako

    So, these “innocent” divers in the video got a taste of what it is like putting up with male sexuality. Welcome to the world of the feminist.

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About Christie Wilcox

Christie Wilcox is a science writer and PhD Student at the University of Hawaii, where she studies the protein toxins in venomous fish. She is renowned in the science blogosphere for her delicate balance of contemporary science and scientific perspective seasoned with just the right amount of wit. Her award-winning posts have been featured in The Open Laboratory: The Best Science Writing On Blogs four years running and landed on the pages of major media outlets including The New York Times and Scientific American. To learn more about her life and work, check out her webpage or follow her on Twitter, Google+, or Facebook.

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