Subject: Dangerous Whales?

Phil Colla (
Mon, 23 Feb 1998 16:08:37 -0800

>Students at Burnsville Elementary School (Burnsville, WV) would like to
>know if whales are dangerous to people.

I've spent a lot of time in the water with whales, and near them on boats,
making observations in support of research and also filming and photographing
them for television and magazine articles.

While all wild animals have some dangerous aspect to them, if I had to
generalize about the whales that I have seen (blue, humpback, gray, sperm,
pilot, fin), then:

By and large, I feel that whales have not been dangerous for me
in that they would not deliberately harm me, UNLESS I were doing
something stupid (like getting in their way) or harassing them (making them
angry enough to react).  On occasion curious whales without provocation
have probably bumped or flipped small boats but, provided they are left alone,
I think whales are NOT dangerous.  (I think poisonous fish and insects pose a
MUCH greater danger, to give you some perspective.)

A few incidents have been documented where whales injured people,
but it is likely that the animal's reaction was prompted by the behavior of
the people in these incidents.  Here are a few:

  A pilot whale nearly drowning a woman near Hawaii.  She was swimming
    rubbing and touching the pilot whale.  It is possible the whale thought
it was
    just playing with her as it dragged her underwater.  It let her go and
she swam to
    the surface.  The cameraman in that incident was charged with harassment.
  A gray whale injuring a film-maker's shoulder in Mexico.  He may have
    or irritated the whale in murky water.
  A dolphin injuring (or killing) a swimming in South America.  Reportedly,
    swimmer was harassing the dolphin -- one account said that the swimmer (or
    other nearby swimmers, I can't remember) was jabbing a pencil in the

If you don't bug the animals, they won't bug you!

Phil Colla

Phil Colla,
Humpback Whales: