Federal officials want to halt the spirit
of giving—at least on the waterways where Beggar the dolphin bobs
from boat to boat, looking for handouts.
It’s illegal and it’s dangerous to feed dolphins, federal officials say. Especially for the dolphin, which can become used to being hand fed and stop hunting on its own. Plus, this dolphin sometimes bites.
“The next time Beggar comes alongside your boat and looks expectantly for a handout, please let him wander off to find a natural meal,” said Eugene Proulx of the fisheries division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “It’s safer for Beggar, safer for you.”
Kathy Wang, a NOAA biologist, said feeding poses another problem. “Fed dolphins may be less wary of people, making them susceptible to injury from boats.”
Lesson: Don’t Feed the Animals
Beggar, who patrols a stretch of water near the Venice Inlet soliciting the softhearted, also has bitten people. Some of the injuries have required medical attention.
On the legal front, the Marine Mammal Protection Act forbids feeding or harassing wild dolphins. Violators risk a year behind bars and a $20,000 fine.
NOAA’s Fisheries Office for Law Enforcement is on a campaign to stop the feedings through stricter enforcement, including charging and fining recreational boaters, and increased educational programs.
The agency has scheduled a town meeting for Tuesday at Nokomis Community Park to focus on Beggar and the feeding and harassing of dolphins in general.
Marine wildlife officers have installed a sign near the waterway explaining the law and listing a telephone number for people to call to report offenses.
In July 1999, an administrative law judge upheld a $4,500 fine against a Panama City boat rental company and its boat operator for illegally feeding dolphins.
The incident happened during a June 1998 excursion off Panama City’s Shell Island and nearby jetty—a destination poplar with residents and tourists for feeding the local dolphin population, according to NOAA.
Wildlife officers recommend keeping at least 50 yards away from dolphins and not interacting with any that approach.