The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is warning Gulf Coast spring breakers not to interact with wild dolphins while hitting the beaches this week.
The “Keep Dolphins Wild” public awareness campaign urges visitors to Florida beaches not to feed, pet, or swim next to wild dolphins. According to USA Today, the recent deaths of several bottlenose dolphins have been linked to excessive human interaction.
“(Visitors) don’t see and hear that these interactions are harmful and inappropriate and illegal,” NOAA bottlenose dolphin expert Stacey Horstman told USA Today. “They see other people out there doing it and think it’s okay. It’s very dangerous for the people and dolphins.”
The complete list of dolphin rules includes not making loud or sudden noises around the animals, limiting viewing time of the dolphins to 30 minutes or less, and not trapping the dolphins with boats or other watercraft.
According to the NOAA, there have been “dozens” of reports of dolphins biting people who attempt to feed them. Additionally, the agency notes that dolphins are increasingly targeted by humans, with reports of dolphins being shot with guns and arrows on the rise. The animals also regularly become tangled in fishing gear.
Dolphin expert Horstman told USA Today that the human interaction problem has gotten so bad that wild dolphin mothers are teaching their offspring how to get food from humans instead of hunting on their own.
“That’s the domino effect we see, that the hand that feeds them may not see,” Horstman told the outlet. “They don’t see the changes in the dolphin’s behavior.”
The NOAA has launched a number of programs aimed at educating the public about the fragility of the dolphins’ natural ecosystem. One such program, Dolphin SMART, encourages “responsible viewing” of the animals through guided tours and other acceptable interactions.
The NOAA and local authorities are still searching for a suspect who shot and killed a pregnant dolphin with a small-caliber gun shortly before Thanksgiving on Miramar Beach. The Whale and Dolphin Conservation has offered a $2,500 reward for information about the incident.