• tourism;
  • swim-with-dolphins;
  • bottlenose dolphin;
  • Tursiops truncatus;
  • sensitization;
  • human impact;
  • human/dolphin interaction


The responses of wild, non-provisioned bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) to swim attempts from commercial swim-with-dolphin tour boats were systematically observed during two research periods: 1994–1995 and 1997–1998. A total of 255 groups of dolphins was encountered during boat-based surveys and 36% (n= 93) were exposed to at least one swim attempt. The operators' success with swim attempts, defined as at least one dolphin milling within 5 m of at least one swimmer, decreased from 48% in 1994–1995 to 34% in 1997–1998, and avoidance responses to swimmers increased from 22% to 31%. Dolphin response was found to vary according to swimmer placement. The greatest increase in avoidance occurred when swimmers were placed in the dolphins' path of travel. Based on sighting records of 266 individually identified dolphins, it was estimated that an average dolphin was exposed to 31 swim attempts per year. This level of exposure suggests that individual dolphins have, with cumulative experience, become sensitized to swim attempts. When a swim attempt was successful, on average it involved 19% of the group. Age-class differences in interaction rates showed that juveniles were significantly more likely to interact with swimmers than adults. This study highlights the importance of longitudinal studies in evaluating human impact and suggests the urgent need for similar studies of potential human impact on other toothed cetaceans.