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Please do not feed or harass wild dolphins.July 13, 2000 — NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service reminds people enjoying the Carolinas' coastal waters that it is against federal law to feed and to harass wild dolphins. It is important that people going to the beaches or boating on local waterways be well informed about wild dolphin safety and health concerns, and the federal laws in place to protect the animals.

Dolphin feeding and harassment continues to occur throughout the Carolinas, especially during the summer season. Agency officials are concerned that people are unaware that feeding or harassing wild marine mammals is dangerous to both animals and humans and illegal under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act. People who engage in such interactions also risk their own safety. The federal marine mammal viewing guidelines developed by NOAA Fisheries recommend observing wild dolphins from a safe distance of at least 50 yards and using binoculars or telephoto lenses to get a good view of the animals.

"We understand that people find it tempting to feed and to interact with wild dolphins," said Trevor Spradlin, a marine mammal biologist in the NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources. "However, people need to realize that feeding wild dolphins is harmful and is therefore illegal under federal law. The best way to protect the dolphins' health and welfare is to observe the animals at a respectful distance and to resist feeding them."

Feeding and harassing dolphins in the wild is illegal under the Marine Mammal Protection Act because these activities change the animals' natural behavior in ways that put them at increased risk of injury or death, and may impact their ability or willingness to forage for food. The prohibition on feeding was upheld in 1993 by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and is widely supported by scientific research and environmental organizations since it is known to be harmful for many species of wildlife.

"We are concerned that viewing marine mammals in the wild can be dangerous to both the animals and to people if not conducted properly and according to established guidelines," said Spradlin. "There are numerous examples of marine mammals being injured by boats when people get too close, or of animals being harmed when people try to feed them. In addition, there are several examples of people being injured by marine mammals when they frighten or attempt to touch, swim-with or feed the animals."

"Our goal is to promote safe and responsible viewing practices of wild marine mammals that the public and tour operators can follow when in the natural habitat of marine mammals," said Spradlin. "That is why we've recently partnered with the "Watchable Wildlife Program," to adopt its already established guidelines for viewing wild terrestrial animals into the marine viewing community. Just as terrestrial wildlife officials and scientists have successfully taught proper conduct in the wilderness through messages like ‘Don't Feed the Bears and View Wildlife from a Safe Distance', we hope to educate the public about the importance of respecting the needs of marine wildlife, and allowing wild marine mammals to stay wild."

NOAA Fisheries will continue to post warning signs and distribute educational materials to help educate the public and commercial operators about the harmful consequences of interactions with dolphins.

"We encourage people to learn about wild marine mammals and observe them in their natural habitat. Therefore, we work to educate the public about the dangers of interacting with them so that we may prevent the need for an enforcement action," added Jeff Randonski, NOAA Fisheries special agent. "If you see a marine mammal violation, such as people feeding wild dolphins or chasing them with boats, please call our Enforcement hotline at (800) 853-1964."

Relevant Web Sites
NOAA Fisheries ‘Protect Dolphins' campaign
Viewing Protected Marine Species in the Wild

Watchable Wildlife Program

Media Contact:
Stephanie Dorezas, NOAA Fisheries, (301) 713-2370.