What Can We Learn From the Dolphin Who Asked Humans for Help?

By Zoe Weil, Humane Connection blog of The Institute for Humane Education

On my way back from China, where I was speaking at the East Asia Regional Council of Schools conference, I spent a week in Hawaii. Visiting Hawaii and seeing lava flow has been a dream of mine for years, and what better opportunity than when I was already flying over the Pacific?

What I hadn’t expected was to experience one of the most unforgettable days of my life, not at Volcano National Park, but in the ocean off the town of Kona. My husband and I were swimming about a mile offshore with pods of dolphins all around. At one point, about 40 dolphins swam under and beside us. It’s pretty incredible to have such magnificent wild animals unafraid to interact, even fleetingly, and to stare into one’s eyes, even through goggles. What an incredible day it was for us!

But later that night we experienced something even more amazing, a night dive with wild manta rays. Mantas are harmless rays, 13 feet long, who feed on plankton. For many years, people have been diving and snorkeling at night off the coast of Kona with a few hundred of these extraordinary animals. The plankton are attracted by the lights the divers and snorkelers carry, and the mantas are attracted by the plankton. They feed inches from one’s head, swimming like slow-motion gymnasts, with a gaping maw that seems like it will swallow you up.

Sitting on the bottom of the ocean floor for an hour with massive mantas swimming all around me was a peak life experience, a once-in-a-lifetime event. But for Martina Wing, it’s an evening ritual. Martina is an underwater videographer who spends six nights a week videotaping the mantas. She knows each one by name and puts together remarkable films. We had the opportunity to meet her the night we were there, and she told us about a fateful evening a few months earlier.

Martina had been filming as usual when an injured dolphin swam into the circle of manta viewers. The dolphin was clearly seeking help, her fin entangled with fishing line. The creature sought out humans, seeming to understand that only humans had the capacity to do something the dolphin could not.

And that’s exactly what happened. One of the divemasters carefully disentangled the line. You can watch the remarkable scene here.

What do we learn from this? Here are some of the lessons I take away:

  • Friendship, love, kindness and compassion easily and often cross species lines. We see it everywhere: between dogs and cats; sheep and chickens; pigs and horses; humans and any number of other animals, including—obviously—dolphins.
  • Humans and nonhuman animals are capable of living together and sharing this planet peacefully. While humans are undoubtedly the most dangerous animal, it was a human whom this dolphin approached for help, and it was a human who provided that help. That we don’t generally live harmoniously with other animals does not mean that we cannot. It means that we have not yet chosen to, and we have not educated our children to. This can change through humane education.
  • We can diminish the harm we cause animals in the sea not simply by “removing our fishing line” as more than one commenter on YouTube suggests, but by not fishing at all and by eating foods that cause the least amount of harm to animals and the environment.
  • Humans love the good. That so many have watched, cried about and shared this video attests to our boundless capacity to seek out and do what is good and kind.

~ Zoe

Zoe Weil
Zoe Weil


Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm; Above All, Be Kind; and The Power and Promise of Humane Education
My TEDxDirigo talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach
My TEDxYouth@CEHS How to Be a Solutionary”