A swimmer went missing off the coast of Ireland for 12 hours. He was finally spotted by volunteers at the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), surrounded by a pod of dolphins. In fact, the dolphins managed to alert the volunteers by swimming and jumping around the lost swimmer. The man was in his 30s from County Londonderry and “hypothermic and exhausted” by the time he was found. He had only his swimsuit for protection from the frigid water. The dolphins saved his life.
“At 20:30, the volunteer lifeboat crew with Fenit RNLI spotted a pod of dolphins and a head above the water about two-and-a-half miles off Castlegregory beach,” the RNLI said. “The casualty was conscious and immediately recovered onto the lifeboat and brought to Fenit Harbour to be taken to hospital.” 
Dolphins Alert Rescuers to Missing Swimmer
The swimmer had tried to swim to Mucklaghmore Rock, which was about five miles from the beach. He had left his clothes and belongings there as he tried to make the trip. His abandoned items notified RNLI that someone went missing. Gerard O’Donnell from RNLI explained that the rescuers had been “scanning the water for any sign of movement and were worried with light fading that they would not find anyone.” At that point, dolphins succeeded in alerting them to the man’s location.
The volunteers took the man to University Hospital Kerry, where he is recovering from the ordeal. As far as the dolphins go, they were later identified as bottlenose dolphins. They live in Moray Firth by Scotland but they also often appear off of the Irish coast.
Finbarr O’Connell, who steered the lifeboat, described the scene as “a lot of dolphins around” when they were alerted to the swimmer. He adds that “This was a very lucky individual.” Additionally, he advises anyone who goes swimming “to let people know where they are going and when they are expected back”. O’Connell wonders if this was the first time the dolphin alert rescuers. “Maybe they helped him in some way or another: who knows?”
Other Dolphin Rescues
Truth be told, this is not the first time dolphins have saved someone’s life. In fact, dolphins are known to help people and other species in dangerous situations. For instance, in 2014, a pod of dolphins protected long-distance swimmer Adam Walker from a great white shark. 
The same occurred in 2004. Four New Zealand swimmers were threatened by a great white shark until a pod of dolphins circled them, letting them escape. “They could have sensed the danger to the swimmers, and taken action to protect them,” said Orca Research’s Ingrid Visser.
At first, the swimmers didn’t even know they were in danger until the dolphins came to alert them. “They started to herd us up, they pushed all four of us together by doing tight circles around us,” said one of the swimmers, Rob Howes, a British-born lifeguard.
That’s when he saw a 10-foot great white shark coming toward him. “I just recoiled,” he said. “It was only about two meters away from me, the water was crystal clear and it was as clear as the nose on my face. They had corralled us up to protect us.”
The dolphins stayed with the swimmers for 40 minutes until the shark gave up and swam away. Then the group swam the 100m back to the beach. 
The Intelligence of Dolphins
Dolphins are known as extremely intelligent animals. They have developed language abilities and they could complete difficult tricks. Not only that, they have even served in the Russian and U.S. navies.
“They have culture, they use tools, they have complex societies,” said Neuroscientist Lori Marino, the president of The Whale Sanctuary Project. “These animals are very much like us because of their social complexities, their behavior, their level of self-awareness.”
Many tests of dolphin intelligence were conducted in captive settings, which aren’t ideal for understanding the species. However, these studies found that dolphins could recognize themselves in a mirror, showing self-awareness, and could understand symbols creating full sentences. But Marino began to study dolphins in their natural habitats. “A lot of the really interesting work being done here is in the wild,” she said.
There, researchers have discovered that bottlenose dolphins use sea sponges to protect their snouts as they dig around the seafloor for food. Additionally, dolphins in Brazil have learned to hunt side-by-side with village fishermen. 
Stay Alert of Dolphins
Although dolphins seem to enjoy and seek out human interaction at times, stay alert. First, dolphins are powerful creatures who could — and have — injure people with a thrash on their tails. Plus, dolphins could get injured or killed if they stray too close to boats.
Liz Sandeman, the co-founder of charity Marine Connection, said, “Sadly, the more these dolphins become habituated through prolonged human contact and behaviors like this develop, the greater the potential for accidents and injury to both the dolphin and members of the public to occur. Dolphins are powerful marine mammals and have been known to, albeit unintentionally at times, seriously injure people when thrashing their tail or even butting them with their snout.” 
- “Dolphins ‘alert’ rescuers to lost swimmer.” BBC. August 25, 2021
- “Dolphins Alert Rescue Crew to Lost Swimmer Who Had Been Stranded for 12 Hours.” People. Greta Bjornson. September 1, 2021
- “Dolphins save swimmers from shark.” The Guardian. Sam Jones. November 24, 2004
- “Just How Intelligent Are Dolphins?” Discover Magazine. Joshua Rapp Learn. March 26, 2021
- “Human-seeking dolphin should be treated with care.” BBC. August 23, 2021