Last modified: Sunday, November 10th, 2002

A Friendly Dolphin in Norway

Flipper It was a quiet day on the beach. It was still early and it wasn't very sunny yet. We had a nice view on the quiet waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Suddenly a dark shadow shot through the water, clearly visible against the light sandy bottom. A short, powerful exhalation completed the picture: a dolphin was heading for the beach. Excitedly a number of people ran into the cold water. This was what the dolphin was looking for: playtime! He quietly made his rounds, dividing his attention between all the people who had taken the trouble of welcoming him.

Nice story, huh? It happened last August on the beach of Ferkingstad Havn on the Flipper under water isle of Karmøy, just north of Stavanger in Norway. Last year, a solitary bottlenosed dolphin appeared near Karmøy. He (the local people called him Flipper) swam alongside boats and surfboards. Gradually he began to take more liberties, pushing surfers off their boards. After some time he came closer to the beach and started playing with swimmers. He was especially interested in air matrasses. Strangely enough Flipper stayed near Karmøy throughout the winter, although the water temperature dropped to about 6°C (43°F), which is pretty cold for a bottlenosed dolphin. And he is still there.

In the beginning of August we went to meet Flipper. He is a pretty big male Flipper tail bottlenosed dolphin (about 3.5 meters or 11 foot 6 inches). We estimated his weight to be around 400 kilos (880 pounds). He must be at least 25 years old, although it is very difficult to estimate his age. His skin is a very dark color, a kind of dark brown and he has quite a lot of scars. These scars are all fairly old, which indicates that he hasn't had any contact with other dolphins recently. It is fairly easy to recognize him, because he has a prominent scar on his lower jaw, a light patch around his blowhole and his flukes are pretty ragged. Because he is so easy to recognize, even for inexperienced observers, we can be pretty sure that we are dealing with only one dolphin here.

Jolanda and flipper When we were there, Flipper appeared towards the end of the morning on one of two beaches. If there were people to play with on the first beach, he stayed there until after 6 pm. He never stayed long with one person or group of persons. He divided his attention between all those present in the water. It didn't really matter if you were swimming, snorkeling or diving or floating around on an air matrass or in a boat. When we were diving, Flipper displayed an intense interest in our fins. He was inspecting them closely and he often pushed against them. Every now and then he stopped in front of us and blew bubbles, apparently imitating the stream of air from our regulators.

Flipper and Flipper under water Usually he just swam around quietly, but every now and then he went into a sexual frenzy and tried to rape an air matrass. Even in those frenzies, he never was a threat to the people around. He has had quite a lot of experience in dealing with people by now and he probably knows what he can and cannot do.

All in all it was a very positive experience for us to be able to swim and dive with Flipper. Quite a lot of people in Norway have had the opportunity to meet him by now and all of them were thrilled. We certainly hope to meet him again.

This paper was published as:
van der Toorn, J.D., J.Y. van der Toorn-Hoeksma and T. Schorpen. 1992.
A friendly dolphin in Norway. Soundings 17.1: 28
And slightly modified, in Dutch as:
van der Toorn, J.D. and J.Y. van der Toorn-Hoeksma. 1991.
Wild in the wild - Wilde dolfijnen in Europa. Duiken 9: 52-53

The latest news on Flipper

Since the above story was written, Flipper has continued to visit several beaches in the Stavanger area. In late July 2001, Flipper collided with the fire brigade vessel "Nøkk" during a very busy festival in Stavanger. As a result, he suffered some very deep cuts to his head, one of which was dangerously close to his blowhole. There were plans to temporarily capture Flipper so that he could be treated. This elicited some comments from the Norwegian MP Bastensen, an avid whaling supporter, who said that the most humane treatment would be to shoot Flipper. Flipper disappeared for a few days and was resighted about a week after the incident and his wounds seemed to be recovering. No further action was undertaken and his condition is being watched by a group of veterinarians and animal care specialists. He was sighted several times and has now recovered completely from his injuries.

Flipper is now missing since June 2002. There have been several reports of dolphins being washed up dead in the area, but none of them have been identified as Flipper. The latest information can be found at the site (in Norwegian)

Relevant links

Møtte Flipper på fisketur
Aftenbladet - 16 February 2002 (in Norwegian only)
Flipper tilbake i godt slag
Aftenbladet - 31 January 2002 (in Norwegian only)
Flipper leker igjen
Haugesunds Avis - 15 October 2001 (in Norwegian only)
Flipper i toppform
Aftenbladet - 25 September 2001 (in Norwegian only)
Flipper i form, sårene grodd
Aftenbladet - 17 September 2001 (in Norwegian only)
«Flipper» på helgetur
Aftenbladet - 6 August 2001 (in Norwegian only)
Shoot sick dolphin says MP whale hunter
Aftenposten - 3 August 2001
New hopes that "Flipper" will survive
Aftenposten - 3 August 2001
Flipper bør skytes, mener Bastensen
Aftenposten - 3 August 2001 (in Norwegian only)
Delfinen "Flipper" kan være reddet
Aftenposten - 2 August 2001 (in Norwegian only)
Hoppet etter Flipper
Aftenbladet - 16 July 2001 (in Norwegian only)
Flipper i Smedasundet
Haugesunds Avis - 15 May 2000 (in Norwegian only)

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