The Incredible Story of Dolphins Saving a Group of Swimmers from a Great White Shark

Woman escape shark
© Willyam Bradberry/Shutterstock.com

Written by Cindy Rasmussen

Published: July 15, 2022

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During the summer months, when the waters get warmer and more people visit the beaches, there is an increase in shark-human conflicts. Some end without incident, while others are fatal. A group of swimmers in New Zealand were out enjoying the water when they were surprised by a group of dolphins swimming around them. Looking around them they thought it was fun to see the dolphins swimming so close until one of the members saw something that didn’t look like a dolphin! Here is the incredible story of dolphins that saved a group of swimmers from a great white shark!

Did dolphins really save a group of swimmers from a Great White?

Can you imagine seeing a great white shark while you are out swimming at the beach?

©Ramon Carretero/Shutterstock.com

Yes! Off the coast of New Zealand a father, Rob Howe, was swimming with his 15-year-old daughter and two of her friends. They were on the North Island at Ocean beach when they saw a couple of dolphins swimming nearby. A few more dolphins joined them and seemed to be corralling the group. At first the swimmers thought it was cool to be up close and personal with a group of playful bottlenose dolphins but they didn’t get the feeling they were playing. The father, Howe, tried to swim away from the group when two larger dolphins swam up to him persuading him to get back with the group, as if they were preventing him from swimming away. That is when Howe saw something in the distance that wasn’t another dolphin… it was a great white shark!

Did the group of swimmers get attacked by the shark or did the dolphins save them?

dolphins jumping out of the water

The dolphins kept the group of swimmers safe from the shark. No one was hurt during the incident.

©Sally Hinton/Shutterstock.com

The group of swimmers were saved by the dolphins. For 40 minutes the dolphins swam around the swimmers, slapping their tails on the water to divert the shark and keeping the people safe. The shark eventually swam away without attacking the dolphins or the swimmers. The group was able to swim the 100 m back to land safely.

What kind of shark was it?

A huge great white shark investigates 3 divers in a shark cage as sun rays penetrate the clear, cool waters of Guadalupe Island, Mexico.

Look how large great

white sharks can get in comparison to the the three divers

. Some have been recorded to be 26 feet long!

©J nel/Shutterstock.com

The shark in this incident was a great white shark. Howe described the shark as a 3-meter (10 foot) long shark and was confirmed by a lifeguard, Matt Fleet, who saw the group of dolphins swimming around while he was out patrolling in a lifeboat. Both men said the waters were very clear giving them a good view of the shark. Great White sharks are the largest predatory fish and are responsible for the most shark attacks on humans. The largest ones can get to be 8 meters (26 feet) and weigh more than 2 tonnes (4,400 pounds). Their mouths are full of 300 sharp teeth that can be replaced when lost. Great whites do aggressively attack their prey and rip it apart, so it is no wonder they are feared by humans.

Why would bottlenose dolphins save a group of swimmers?

Dolphins are social animals and often join and leave other pods surprisingly frequently. They are also very protective of each other and their young. The dolphins probably sensed the danger and did what dolphins do, they tried to protect the swimmers, only leaving when they knew the shark had left.

Has anything like this happened before? Have dolphins saved people from sharks?

The remarkable thing is that this has happened before, multiple times! A video of long-distance swimmer, Adam Walker, shows a group of 10 dolphins swimming with him. He was trying to complete a 16-mile swim off the coast of New Zealand. He was swimming to raise money for the Whale and Dolphin Conservation. Walker said the dolphins swam up to him right after he saw a Great White shark swim under him. Later Walker posted on his Facebook page, “I’d like to think they were protecting me and guiding me home!!!”

What happened in a viral video when two divers saw a shark?

Scariest Shark - Ocean Whitetip

Oceanic whitetipped sharks are another aggressive shark.

©iStock.com/NaluPhoto

In September, 2021, Newsweek reported on the story of two divers who were swimming near Kailua-Kona, Hawaii when a rough toothed dolphin swam up and started circling them. Kayleigh Grant, a dive instructor, then explained that she saw a shark approaching them. The dolphin continued to swim around the divers, trying to keep them safe from the shark. Grant posted the video on Tik Tok expressing her gratitude and awe with the sweet dolphin. The shark in this incident was an oceanic whitetipped shark and did not seem aggressive at the time, but they have been reported in shark attacks. They are a large shark, but most do not get longer than 11 feet. The NOAA fisheries lists the whitetip as threatened under the Endangered Species act due to heavy fishing and ending up as bycatch.

How frequent are shark attacks?

Although there is always a lot of media attention when a shark attacks a human it is actually extremely rare. The International Shark Attack File run by the Florida Museum of Natural History provides reliable data on shark attacks and fatalities throughout the world. According to the ISAF 2021 shark attack report, there were 73 unprovoked bites from sharks in 2021 in the world. The total number of fatalities caused by sharks was 11, with 9 of those being unprovoked. The United States had the most unprovoked bites with 47 and although two incidents in this article occurred in New Zealand, there were only 3 unprovoked bites in New Zealand in 2021, but also one fatality.

What are the odds of being attacked by a shark?

The odd of being killed by a shark in your lifetime is 1 in 3,748,067.  Some joke that you should just swim with dolphins to keep you safe at the beach. Definitely not a very practical plan, but how risky is it really to swim in the ocean? Deaths from lightning strikes, something we seem as pretty far-fetched, is 30 times more likely that being killed by a shark.

What animals are more deadly than sharks?

Yellow Jacket vs. Paper Wasp The 7 Key Differences Poster Image

Bees, wasps and hornets cause more deaths per year than sharks!

©Witsawat.S/Shutterstock.com

The animals you should be worried about are bees, wasps and hornets. They cause an average of 62 deaths per year. The CDC recorded 1,109 deaths from stings between 2000-2017 with an average of 62 deaths per year. The majority of these are due to an allergic reaction, and surprisingly 80% of these fatalities were in males.

Dolphins certainly can’t protect you from bees, wasps and hornets, but if you are worried about sharks, dolphins seem to have your back. Very fortunate ending for the group of swimmers in New Zealand!


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About the Author

I'm a Wildlife Conservation Author and Journalist, raising awareness about conservation by teaching others about the amazing animals we share the planet with. I graduated from the University of Minnesota-Morris with a degree in Elementary Education and I am a former teacher. When I am not writing I love going to my kids' soccer games, watching movies, taking on DIY projects and running with our giant Labradoodle "Tango".

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