A dolphin which ‘fell in love’ with a Dutch cargo ship and refused to leave its side has been found dead after apparently colliding with another boat’s propeller. 

The animal, named Zafar, first made headlines in 2018 when it started rubbing up against boats and bathers in the French town of Landevennec while visibly excited. 

Zafar then formed a close bond with the Les Tres Hombres ship at the beginning of this month and was seen following it into Amsterdam’s harbour in the Netherlands. 

However, several days after he was led back to sea, Zafar was found dead with his tail missing and serious bruising to his side. 

Lonneke IJsseldijk, a biologist at Utrecht University who carried out an autopsy on the dolphin, told media outlet Dutch News, ‘All the signs are that the dolphin died on impact. 

‘It suffered a big blow and probably lost its tail in the propeller of the ship that hit it.’ 

The Netherlands-based SOS Dolphin foundation which had helped rescue Zafar from Amsterdam harbour and return it to the North Sea said: ‘Zafar’s love of ships became his downfall.’ 

Zafar first started following the Les Tres Hombres, a sail-powered cargo ship, when it was returning to port in the Dutch harbour town of IJmuiden. 

The dolphin refused to leave the boat’s side when it then sailed to Amsterdam and despite repeated attempts to get him to follow another ship out of the harbour, Zafar kept returning. 

A spokesperson for the SOS dolphin foundation, Annemarie van den Berg, said at the time ‘this is an exceptional situation, to put it mildly’ before the local authorities eventually managed to get the dolphin to leave.

And in 2018, Zafar sparked a swimming ban in Landevennec, Brittany, after he repeatedly rubbed up against boats and bathers.    

‘I issued the decree to ensure safety… Several bathers were really afraid – he even lifted up a woman bather with his snout,’ Landevennec mayor, Roger Lars, told the local newspaper Ouest France at the time.  

Sami Hassani, a specialist in marine mammals at the Oceanopolis sea park, said the dolphin could accidentally cause ‘serious injuries’ with its tail fin.

But the ban ran into legal problems.

Lawyer Erwan Le Cornec told AFP he planned to file a petition to overturn the restrictions on the grounds of administrative over-reach.

‘How many accidents involving a dolphin and a human have occurred in the region of Finistere since the two species have lived side-by-side? None,’ he said. 

‘With this decree the mayor is trying to make out that the dolphin is almost like a ferocious beast, something that is completely unpredictable, able to drown people.’

The mayor, he said, ‘will overturn the rightly positive approach that people have towards dolphins into a fear of these intelligent animals.’

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