Informant – “Dolphins are considered good luck when they swim with the ship. And it’s bad luck to kill a dolphin.”
JK – “Where does this belief come from?”
Informant – “I just think that dolphins are friendly to humans. They have a long history of…there’s stories of them chasing sharks away and swimming with humans. They are sweet creatures and really intelligent. That level of intelligence demands respect.”
JK – “Where did you hear it from?”
Informant – “I just grew up with that. My father would tell me about dolphins. And there have been a couple of times in my life where I’ve actually seen it. They’ll play in the wake of the ship. It’s really neat.”
There seems to be very logical reasons for this superstition. So much so, that it hardly seems superstitious. Dolphins are historically friendly/helpful creatures, so a pod following your ship is definitely a good thing. It’s hard to think of a valid reason to kill a dolphin, so it makes sense why doing so would be seen as bad luck.
My informant stated that surfers believe that when dolphins are seen during a surf session, that means sharks are most likely not present at the time and surfers foresee a good experience in the ocean for that day. My informant stated that when he went surfing at Huntington Beach, a couple of surfers spotted a dolphin literally a foot away from them swimming. They then told my informant that whenever Dolphins around enjoying the ocean, that means they are protected from sharks and will have a good surf session as they have nothing to worry about.
My informant’s take on why he believes this superstition, “It is always eerie when in the ocean alone and the mind always wanders and wonders if there is anything lurking under the water. When one looks for a dolphin and one is seen, it rids of these wandering thoughts and fears. I also like to tell people who have never been surfing before this story, since a lot of people are scared of the ocean and surfing. This story puts them at ease.”
I believe my informant got that basis of this superstition from actual accounts of dolphins saving surfers from shark attacks and also from disasters. There are two popular accounts, one is of a surfer who was bitten by a shark, dolphins soon surrounded this surfer and created a frenzy to keep the shark away from this injured surfer. Another is the story of a surfer who was knock unconscious by his surfboard, a dolphin brought him back to shore. I believe that these surfers got their belief from these stories that influenced this specific protection legend.