Featured Image Credit: www.dolphins-world.com
If you feed a wild dolphin, you might as well just kill it.
Teaching dolphins to be dependent on humans can lead them to starvation, dehydration or fatal injury.
This has been a recurring problem at Hilton Head Island, SC.
Jean Fruh, a South Carolina Master Naturalist, has spent years educating tourists on the dangers of hand feeding.
In a recent interview, she recounted a story of an encounter will a well-intentioned, but misinformed family. The family was climbing into kayaks to go dolphin watching when Fruh noticed the large cache of sardine tins they were bringing with them.
Concerned with what the sardines might be for, Fruh approached the family to ask about the fish. Apparently, a store owner had told the family that dolphins liked sardines. Hoping to get a close-up glimpse of these animals, they brought several tins with them.
So what exactly is so dangerous about feeding wild dolphins?
First of all, under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, feeding wild marine mammals is illegal and carries up to a $20,000 fine and one-year prison sentence.
But feeding can carry dire consequences for the animals too. Wild dolphins that learn to beg from humans will stop hunting. In turn, these “beggars” will teach their offspring to do the same.
The problem, however, doesn’t stop at general laziness. Fish serve as a dolphin’s primary source of fresh water. A dolphin can literally dehydrate if it alters its diet.
Amber Keuhn, an employee at the Coastal Discovery Museum, explained the drastic nature of the problem:
“You won’t ever see the horribleness of this because they get sick and they die. That’s what kind of makes people like, ‘What’s the big deal?’ It’s overtime where they’re not eating like they should.”
Hilton Head has a particularly drastic problem with feeding. As a popular tourist destination, thousands of uneducated vacationers interact with (and often feed) wildlife every year.
This results in around 5 indictments every year, with penalties ranging from minor citations to corporate fines. If authorities could effectively monitor everyone, that number would be much higher.
So what can be done about this trend? Fruh believes the answer lies in education.
Fruh and her non-profit The Outside Foundation are dedicated to showing tourists and vacationers safe, fun ways to interact with wildlife. By showing the public the dangers of feeding wildlife, experts like Fruh hope to curtail this dangerous practice.
The next time you’re out on the water, take some time to observe the wonderful marine life around you. But remember, leave the animals to feed themselves – its healthier for the animals and helps protect the species!