BRUNSWICK — An animated dolphin is the new face for a campaign to end the illegal feeding of wild dolphins. The video public service announcement, produced by a coalition of government agencies and private organizations, highlights the dangers of animals becoming hooked on human handouts. The health and welfare of wild dolphins is severely compromised when humans feed them, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In some cases, people are buying previously frozen bait from bait stores along the coast. This bait is not intended for dolphins and can lead to diseases ranging from mild periodontal to possibly deadly gastrointestinal, or GI, tract infections.
Those who feed dolphins are also taking chances. According to NOAA’s Web site, cases of wild dolphins biting humans have been documented. Clay George, a wildlife biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, said dolphins have been seen approaching boats to beg for food off Tybee Island. "This lack of fear indicates an emerging trend - that they are being fed with some frequency," George said.
In areas including the Gulf of Mexico, human-fed dolphins have caused problems for commercial fishermen when, after following the boats, the dolphins try to attack the fishermen’s catch.
Feeding wild dolphins is illegal under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Penalties can include fines up to $20,000 and one year in jail. Feeding any wild animal can cause it to become dependent on human food, changing natural behaviors and possibly leading to starvation if the animal becomes unable to feed and hunt successfully. The DNR encourages people to consider the consequences before feeding any animal, be it a dolphin, raccoon or other wildlife.
The public service announcement can be seen at www.youtube.com/user/GeorgiaWildlife. Georgians can support conservation involving dolphins and other animals not legally hunted, fished for or trapped, as well as native plants and habitats, through buying wildlife license plates featuring a bald eagle or a ruby-throated hummingbird. Visit www.georgiawildlife.com for information, or call conservation offices in Social Circle (770-761-3035), Forsyth (478-994-1438) or Brunswick (912-264-7218).