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Swimmers bitten in string of dolphin attacks at Sea of Japan beaches

FUKUI -- A dolphin has bitten several swimmers in Fukui Prefecture along the Sea of Japan, with the latest attack occurring on Aug. 13, despite efforts by the city of Fukui to keep the marine mammals away from local beaches.

    A dolphin that has appeared at Takasu Beach in the city of Fukui is seen in this photo provided by the Esperanca Fukui board shop.

    According to the prefectural police, between July 24 and Aug. 12, 17 dolphin attacks occurred at three beaches, including Koshino Beach and Takasu Beach in the city of Fukui. Dolphins can come right up to the edge of the water, and most of the incidents happened within 10 meters of the shore. Most of the injuries were minor, but one person needed 14 stitches to close a bite to the base of their left thumb.

    The initial incidents prompted city of Fukui to install underwater ultrasound emitters to keep the animals away from human bathing spots. However, another person was bitten on Aug. 6. On Aug. 13, the day of the latest attack, the Fukui Prefectural Police distributed fliers at beaches and other locations to alert beachgoers of the danger.

    Adult dolphins are generally about 2 meters long and weigh some 200 kilograms, and being hit by one can apparently be fatal. According to the Echizen Matsushima Aquarium in Sakai, Fukui Prefecture, just one animal -- thought to be an Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin -- is likely behind all the attacks, based on its physical characteristics.

    A man shows his injured right arm, where he was bitten by a dolphin, at Takasu Beach in the city of Fukui on Aug. 13, 2022. (Mainichi/Yoko Kunimoto)

    In the Aug. 13 incident, a man in his 60s from the prefectural city of Sabae was swimming 3 to 4 meters from the shore at Takasu Beach when he was bitten by a dolphin on his right arm.

    "I'd heard about the dolphin on the news and was going to get out of the water immediately if I saw it, but by the time I noticed it, it was right next me," he recalled.

    The dolphin bit him and would not let go. He tried to pry open its mouth with his hand, but the dolphin forced itself on top of him, nearly pushing him under the water. The man said, "I panicked, but I was saved when someone nearby drove it away."

    Police officers call on swimmers to beware of dolphins at Koshino Beach in the city of Fukui on Aug. 13, 2022. (Mainichi/Yoko Kunimoto)

    A police officer urged bathers to "watch out for wild dolphins" at Koshino Beach as well.

    Tatsumi Iwasa, 71, who runs a cafe at the beach, told the Mainichi Shimbun that "dolphins used to push people, but recently their behavior has escalated to the point where they're lunging on top of them." The Takasu tourist association, which installed the ultrasound emitter there, plans to remove the device by the end of August, when the beach will close for bathing.

    Yuichi Nakabo, deputy chief of Fukui Minami Police Station, commented, "Dolphins can get close to you even in shallow water. If you see dolphins, return to the shore as soon as possible and stay away from them."

    (Japanese original by Yoko Kunimoto, Fukui Bureau)

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