DOLPHINS are often viewed as benign and friendly creatures of the sea.
In fact there are many stories of dolphins saving people in distress after shipwrecks or facing drowning.
And when dolphins appeared near surfers taking to the waves at the renowned Nuggan Point surf spot on Monday, no one paid them too much attention.
That was until one of them collided with bodyboarder John Wolfson as he paddled out over a wave.
In the region to celebrate his 27th birthday with friends, and chase the large swell churning up big waves on the South Coast, the bodyboarder from Manly was doubled up in pain after the dolphin came up from below and hit him on the left side of his abdomen.
“He could not move at all. He thought he had broken his ribs,” witness and surf photographer Jason Corroto said.
The impact was so strong it ripped Mr Wolfson’s wetsuit.
“He looked like he was wearing a rag,” Mr Corroto said.
Friends helped Mr Wolfson back to the shore and called for help, but paramedics were forced to walk about a kilometre across soft sand to the remote location just north of Bawley Point.
They were joined on the scene by police and NSW Fire and Rescue personnel, and stabilised the man before loading him onto a four-wheel drive ambulance, which became stuck in the soft sand.
Mr Wolfson had to be unloaded before the ambulance could be moved, before he was put back into the vehicle and driven about 500m along the sand to a nearby car park, where he was transferred to another ambulance.
He was taken to Milton Hospital, where medical rescue helicopter was waiting to transfer him to St George Hospital in a stable condition.
Dr Peter Grant, a senior staff specialist in emergency medicine at the hospital, said Mr Wolfson was “in a lot of discomfort” when he arrived at the hospital.
He described the accident scene by saying Mr Wolfson was “surfing a reef break and was paddling out towards a wave and there was a playful pod of dolphins that came very close.
“One of those dolphins, at speed, has come up from below and struck him in the left side of his abdomen very forcefully.
“It’s hit him flush in the abdomen but he doesn’t appear to have sustained any life-threatening injuries,” Dr Grant said.
“At the moment he is stable, awake and in good spirits.”
With no broken bones and no major injuries, Mr Wolfson was discharged from hospital on Monday night.
However the incident left several people scratching their heads.
Even Dr Grant said he had never before seen such a case in more than 20 years on the job.
“I’ve dealt with just about every other sort of collision but I’ve never seen a person versus a dolphin,” he said.
Marine research group ORCCA’s president Ronny Ling said past dolphin rammings in NSW had usually occurred when people tried to interact with the unpredictable animals.
“We’ve had a lot of cases lately of people trying to hold on to dolphins, which is what they don’t like,” he said.
He added it was difficult to tell whether the dolphin had deliberately struck Mr Wolfson, of whether it had been a simple miscalculation.