The last thing dental surgeon Michael Lim expected during a chance to get up close to the dolphins at Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) was to be bitten.
Dr Lim, 48, was sitting at the edge of a lagoon at an attraction for the public to interact with the bottlenose dolphins, with his legs in the water, when he was bitten on the second toe of his right foot.
He told The Straits Times on Monday that he was attending an "encounter programme" at Dolphin Island, an up-close experience without getting into the water, two weeks ago. He wanted to cool himself on that hot afternoon, and got permission from the dolphin trainer to dangle his legs in the water .
Shortly after he did so, one of the dolphins jumped into the air, then flipped and swam backwards. At this point, Dr Lim felt a painful bite.
Dr Lim, who had gone to RWS with his 22-year-old daughter, said he stayed calm and did not shout. "I have had dogs and cats before, so I know that when animals bite, we are not supposed to pull away or scream," he said.
He said the trainer was unaware of what had happened until he caught her attention and told her. A family from Brunei who were seated nearby were shocked to see the blood, he said.
Twenty minutes after the incident, a nurse arrived and bandaged his toe. Dr Lim stayed on until the programme, for which he paid about $100, ended at 6pm.
A doctor on the RWS premises then saw him and gave him a seven-day course of antibiotics. Dr Lim said the bite marks looked like razor cuts and that they measured between 13mm and 15mm.
Though his wound is healing well, he is now wary. He said that while there had been a safety briefing, there was no mention of dolphin bites. "It was my first and last time with a dolphin," he said. "We have the idea they are friendly and harmless, but they are still wild animals."
Dolphin trainer Brittney Iverson described it as an "isolated incident where one of our dolphins nibbled the toes of a guest during an interaction programme". She said: "We believe the dolphin behaved out of playful curiosity, rather than hostility, as it explored its surroundings."
Ms Iverson, who has more than six years of animal-handling experience and has been with Dolphin Island since its opening in 2013, said dolphins are gentle and sociable.
As of May this year, there were 27 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins from the Solomon Islands at the attraction. Before the attraction opened, animal rights groups in Singapore and the Philippines had lobbied for the release of the mammals.
Ms Iverson said Dolphin Island has an excellent safety record and that all dolphin interaction programmes are led and supervised by dolphin trainers who follow strict operating procedures.
Elsewhere, Seaworld Orlando, a theme park in the US, has stopped public feeding of dolphins after a few children were bitten while feeding or petting the dolphins.
Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) executive director Louis Ng said there is always a risk in letting people come in touch with wild animals.
"Dolphins' teeth are sharp, and they are hunters in the wild. Even if they are playing, they can inflict harm," he said.