Featured Image Credit: montgomerycollege.edu
By Emily Persico
Dolphins are a diverse group of marine mammals consisting of 40 distinct species. They are playful and exceedingly clever, a charismatic animal that attracts attention worldwide. Yet our attention, while certainly innocent and well-meaning in most cases, is killing the creatures we so adore.
In recent years, scientists from all over the world have been studying if and how human interactions modify dolphin behavior and survival. Finally, the verdict is out. In the short-term, we do indeed modify dolphin behavior, oftentimes leading to their long (forever)-term death.
One study looked at the effect of tour boats on bottlenose dolphins in Western Australia, and what it found was significant but not surprising.
“The time spent resting and feeding decreased, whereas travelling increased. The group structure was also influenced as dolphins tend to spread in more groups of fewer animals in the presence of the tour boat,” reads the paper.
While it is certainly alarming that human presence can stress a dolphin into splitting from its group, wasting valuable energy, and skipping meals, this study said nothing as to the long-term effects of interaction. For that, we look to another study, published just last year, which looks at mortality in bottlenose dolphins in Florida.
“We found that conditioned dolphins (dolphins that sought out human interaction) were more likely to be injured by human interactions when compared with unconditioned animals,” the study concludes.
As if that isn’t enough already, the authors additionally found that human conditioning doesn’t necessarily have to arise from human interactions alone. A dolphin can teach other dolphins human conditioning, putting a whole colony at risk. Not surprisingly, the number of dolphins considered “conditioned” in the study jumped from 25 to 190 in a span of just twenty years.
These findings are not in isolation. Human presence is increasing along many coasts with busting beachside populations in some areas and increased boating. This has led many dolphins, especially those used to human interaction, to suffer or die as a result of boat strikes and fishing gear ingestion and entanglement.
So, next time you see a dolphin, remember: intentionally disturbing (that includes feeding!) marine mammals is downright illegal, and could even land you a year in jail. Dolphins are amazing creatures, but, for your well-being and theirs, they are best appreciated from a distance.