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Human Interactions Could Be Fatal for a Texas Dolphin

July 02, 2021

Biologists with NOAA Fisheries and the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network are growing increasingly concerned about public interest in dolphin off North Padre Island, Texas.

Dolphin swimming in canal in North Padre Island, Texas. Credit: Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network.

Update July 2, 2021
Increased patrols and possible federal fines for people harassing dolphin

In response to continued incidents of inappropriate and illegal interactions with this dolphin, Texas Parks and Wildlife and NOAA Office of Law Enforcement personnel plan to increase their patrols of the area and to prioritize their investigations of people interacting with the dolphin. Dolphins are protected federally under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). The MMPA provides for both civil and criminal penalties for illegal “takes;” a term that includes harassing, feeding, or disturbing the animal. Potential penalties include fines of up to $100,000 and imprisonment for up to one year per violation. In order to avoid inadvertently violating the law, NOAA Fisheries recommends maintaining a minimum of 50 yards of separation between people and dolphins and refraining from interacting with the animals in any way.

June 24, 2021

A lone dolphin, first spotted in March of last year, is staying in canals adjacent to a nearby neighborhood in North Padre Island. Over the past year the public has become more and more interested in the animal—even showing up to swim with, ride, jump on, and pet 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.

So why don’t biologists move the animal? 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. Instead, biologists explain, we must change human behavior, not the dolphin’s behavior or its home.  

Give Dolphins Space

Biologists ask that you not seek out and interact with the dolphin, but rather give it space. If you do encounter it, view from a safe distance. While experts understand the enthusiasm and interest in seeing wildlife up close, encouraging this dolphin to engage with people is very dangerous for its survival in the wild.

Avoid seeking out the dolphin and, if you encounter it, don't interact with it in any way—allow the dolphin to be wild. Human interactions cause animals to lose their wariness of people and boats, leading to boat strikes, and entanglement in or ingestion of fishing gear. In fact, this dolphin was recently observed with wounds consistent with a propeller injury along its left side.

Image
Wounds consistent with a propeller injury along the dolphin’s left side. Credit: Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network.
Wounds consistent with a propeller injury along the dolphin’s left side. Credit: Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network.

The Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network is consulting with NOAA Fisheries and marine mammal veterinary experts. They are monitoring the dolphin to determine the extent of this injury. However, it is clear that the dolphin is already in danger from the human interactions that are occurring.  

Harassing and Feeding Dolphins Is Illegal

Dolphins are protected federally under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).  The MMPA provides for both civil and criminal penalties for illegal “takes;” a term that includes harassing, feeding, or disturbing marine mammals in the wild.  Potential penalties include fines of up to $100,000 and imprisonment for up to one year per violation.  

In order to avoid inadvertently violating the law and in order to protect these vulnerable animals, NOAA Fisheries recommends maintaining a minimum of 50 yards of separation between people and dolphins and refraining from interacting with the animals in any way. If you see potential violations, please report them to the enforcement hotline at (800) 853-1964.

Experts say loving them from afar is the best way to insure a dolphin's ability to thrive and live a full life. If you see an injured or dead marine mammal, please don’t take matters into your own hands. Call trained responders at (877) WHALE-HELP, keep a safe distance, and take photos if possible

 

 

Last updated by Southeast Regional Office on July 02, 2021