A seaside community on South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula has become the unofficial home of a friendly dolphin, but authorities are warning people to keep their distance.

Eric, as he has been fondly named, was first spotted by locals in Port Broughton, about two hours north-west of Adelaide, a couple years ago.

But there have been safety concerns for both Eric and swimmers after the local council received numerous complaints during the recent Adelaide Cup long weekend.

There were reports of people getting too close to the dolphin and trying to ride him.

Eric the dolphin is known to draw very close to swimmers at Port Broughton.(ABC North and West: Annabel Francis)

“There were concerns about harming the dolphin. We’ve been advised that some people were being a bit rough with the dolphin,” said Steve Davey from Barunga West Council.

Aside from that, Mr Davey said Eric was well known in Port Broughton and well liked.

“The dolphin’s quite friendly,” he said.

“When there’s a group of swimmers or people in the water it tends to swim around them, and then interact or swim under their legs.”

How close is too close?

National Parks and Wildlife SA conservation ecologist Matthew Heard said people should keep 30 metres between themselves and Eric.

“Obviously with friendly dolphins like Eric, it’s not always possible,” he said.

“We advise people that if Eric starts interacting with them, to either leave the water or not enter the water in the first place.

“If Eric becomes too habituated with people, [he] may become aggressive.”

Mr Heard said there was a risk of Eric biting people or striking them with his tail.

“Also there’s the risk to him. If he becomes more habituated with people, then he puts himself in more risky situations, closer to boats, closer to the jetty, where he might become entangled in fishing lines,” he said.

“Even though he’s cute and he’s got a name, he’s still a wild animal.

“We certainly encourage people not to directly interact with dolphins.”

Floppy fin folklore

Mr Davey said locals had an interesting theory about Eric’s floppy dorsal fin, which would also explain how he ended up in Port Broughton.

“There is a belief in the community that Eric lost its mother at a very young age and separated from a pod,” he said.

“Whether it’s true or not, they say Eric finds solace in human interaction.”

Some locals also had theories that Eric was in fact an “Erica”.

Conservation ecologist Matthew Heard said people should not directly interact with dolphins.(Supplied: Department for Environment and Water)

As for the exact origin of Eric’s floppy fin, conservation ecologist Mr Heard said it was hard to say because dorsal fins could be deformed “in a bunch of different ways”. 

“Often you see [that] after an animal struck a boat, or it may be something to do with his nutrition when he was younger,” he said.

“A dolphin with a dorsal fin like that … they tend to be a little bit more at risk of becoming entangled … in fishing lines and ropes.

“It may not be impacting on the animal at all in any way, so this dolphin may be carrying that without any impediment at all.”

A local icon

ABC reporters on the jetty observed Eric approach a swimmer and start playfully circling her, but she did not interact with him. 

Port Broughton’s friendly dolphin has been approaching and playfully interacting with swimmers.(ABC North and West: Viki Ntafillis)

Port Broughton local Teagan Schell said Eric was a drawcard for the town, and that it should stay that way. 

“We hear people coming into work all the time saying, ‘Oh, I swam with Eric’, ‘I want to go see Eric’,” she said. 

“We don’t want to antagonise him to the point where something happens and he has to leave and we don’t get him at all because it is like a really good tourist attraction.

“It’s not really often that Broughton gets something special.

“So keeping our distance is a really good idea.” 

While watching Eric from the jetty, Victorian tourist Sharlene McCord told the ABC she “wouldn’t get any closer”.

“They’re a wild animal, when you think about it,” she said.

“Leave them in their own territory and just admire them from a distance.”