Thousands of dolphins are killed every year due to boat strikes, becoming entangled in fishing gear, and countless other human actions.
The only way wild animals can stay “wild” is if humans keep their distance. When animals become reliant on people for food and are not afraid to approach them, it becomes dangerous for both the animal and people.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) biologists are concerned for the health and well-being of a friendly dolphin off the coast of North Padre Island in Texas.
The dolphin appeared in the canal last year and has been living in the area ever since. Due to its friendly disposition people are feeding, petting, swimming, attempting to ride and taking photos with the dolphin.
“They are sharing their experiences and interactions via social media, encouraging others to go out and interact with the animal as well. These actions could be dangerous—even fatal—for the dolphin,” stated NOAA.
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While some people think their actions are harmless, it is illegal to feed or touch the dolphin. People should remain at least 50 yards away from the dolphin and observe it from afar.
The dolphin is federally protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and NOAA plans to fine $100–$250 per citation to anyone seen feeding or interacting with the dolphin.
Concerned residents worry the fine is not enough to stop careless people. “Fine needs to be much higher than that! A lot people would dare each other for that amount,” wrote one person.
Human interactions are already taking a toll on the dolphin. “This dolphin was recently observed with wounds consistent with a propeller injury along its left side,” reported NOAA.
Dolphins that are fed by humans will swim up to boats looking for food and often times get nicked or killed by the propeller.
Marine animal veterinarians are monitoring the dolphin’s injury.
Some wonder if relocating the lone dolphin would be the best, but scientists say it would be more detrimental to the dolphin.
“Research shows that relocating a wild dolphin is not a favorable option for the dolphin’s survival and is not likely to solve the problem. This is especially true when people have taught the dolphin to associate with them by feeding and interacting with it. This area is now the dolphin’s home. If moved, it would either return to the area or move the same problem behaviors to another area, decreasing its chances of survival.”
The only solution is to “change human behavior, not the dolphin’s behavior or its home.”
Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network, a marine animal rescue organization, is working with NOAA to protect the dolphin and keep it wild. They posted that if people keep their distance and do not engage with the dolphin, it will return to “its natural behavior, even foraging for fish.”
NOAA is asking the public to help keep the dolphin safe by reporting any violations to the enforcement hotline at (800) 853-1964.
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