Boaters have provisioned wild bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops truncatus, for more than 10 years in the Intracoastal Waterway near Nokomis, Florida. One dolphin, referred to as Beggar, is a well-known attraction to tourists and local boaters because of his predictable presence in the area. From 1997 to 2001, a study was undertaken to document boater interactions with Beggar and occasional dolphin associates. We also evaluated the effectiveness of efforts to curtail these illegal activities through public education and law enforcement. In spite of a public relations campaign and limited law enforcement efforts, illegal interactions including provisioning, physical contact, and other forms of harassment have continued. In fact, since the cessation of the docent program we conducted as part of the public relations campaign, interaction rates have increased from fewer than 2% of passing boaters to nearly 7%. We queried a sample of those who chose to interact illegally with the dolphins and found that 39% claimed no knowledge of the laws. Many of the other 61% who were aware of the legal ramifications expressed a lack of understanding of the problems associated with interacting with wild dolphins. We suggest that increased law enforcement efforts, including the application of well-publicized punitive sanctions, along with increasing awareness of the problems associated with feeding wild animals, may be required to bring about any further reduction in this problem.
This work was conducted through the support of NOAA Fisheries and John and Ronnie Enander. The presentation based on a version of this Abstract won the 2002 Education and Conservation Award at the 30th Annual International Marine Animal Trainers Association Conference, in November in Orlando, FL.