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Save dolphins by not feeding them

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POSTED: October 12, 2012 5:00 p.m.

Feeding Atlantic bottlenose dolphin is a federal offense, punishable by a fine of $20,000.

Scientists in the Department of Natural Resources Coastal Resources division say feeding dolphin is a common occurrence in Georgia waters. There are many reasons why one should not feed a wild dolphin.

An example of what can happen when humans insist on entertaining themselves at the expense of wild animals is found in the story of Beggar. Beggar was a dolphin in the waters around Sarasota, Fla. He had a reputation of constantly begging.

He became the subject of a research project of the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program. In 2011, Beggar was observed for 100 hours during a period of several months. People tried to feed him 169 times with more than 500 types of foods, including beer and hot dogs. Boaters tried to pet the dolphin 120 times, which resulted in nine known bites.

By feeding a dolphin, humans cause it to ignore the natural methods of foraging, and instead come to depend almost entirely on the sound of a boat to be its dinner bell. Human intervention in the feeding process interrupts the training a mother gives her baby, which learns only to beg and invites an early death.

Dolphins can live to be around 50 years old in the wild. Beggar made it about 20 years. In September, his body was discovered. A necropsy was done at Mote Marine Laboratories. Beggar had boat scars, broken bones, broken ribs and vertebrae and puncture wounds. These injuries were most probably the result of multiple boat strikes. His natural instinct to stay away or avoid boats was set aside due to feeding from boats.

Many boaters have the misconception that a dolphin can dodge their fast-moving boats. Not so. Due to their very sensitive eco-location system, the soundwaves from the motor can easily confuse them. They can become disoriented. Running between a baby and its mother can cause panic and confusion and end in a boat strike.

Beggar had ulcers. This points towards human intervention in his normal diet. He had stopped eating. His health and injuries probably prevented him from begging for handouts, so in his final days he was starving. He had indigestible squid beaks, a type of fish bait, in his third stomach.

Attract the dolphin by banging on the side of the boat. Feed him human garbage or bacteria riddled bait. Kill the dolphin. Another fun day on the water.

Beggar, driven by the insatiable curiosity dolphins have, probably started approaching boats when he was very young. Someone gave him something to eat. Twenty years later, that learned behavior resulted in an early and miserable death for Beggar.

You can call Peach Hubbard at 912-727-3177 to arrange to attend one of the frequent and free dolphin programs. You also can arrange for a presentation about one of the most fascinating animals in our waters for your group or classroom. 

Roy Hubbard lives in Richmond Hill.

 

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