Subject: Dolphins:NOAA/NMFS Press Release (fwd)

Mike Williamson (pita@www1.wheelock.edu)
Thu, 29 Jan 1998 12:44:56 -0500 (EST)

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---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 28 Jan 1998 19:03:38 -0500
From: Trevor Spradlin <Trevor.Spradlin@noaa.gov>
Reply-To: Marine Mammals Research and Conservation Discussion
     <MARMAM@UVVM.UVIC.CA>
To: MARMAM@UVVM.UVIC.CA
Subject: NOAA/NMFS Press Release



     NOAA 98-R105

     Contact:  Scott Smullen               FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
     scott.smullen@noaa.gov                1/20/98
     (301) 713-2370

     DOLPHIN FEEDING AND HARASSMENT STILL ILLEGAL

     The National Marine Fisheries Service reminds people enjoying
     Florida's coastal waters that it is still against federal law to feed
     and harass wild dolphins.  Recent press coverage about a local court
     ruling on the state's wildlife law may have confused many area
     residents and tourists who remember that the fisheries service
     conducted a federal public awareness campaign last summer in Florida.

     Dolphin feeding and harassment has increased at an alarming rate
     throughout the Southeast in Florida, Texas and South Carolina.  The
     flurry of feeding activity has agency officials worried that the
     average citizen is unaware that offering a dolphin a handout is
     harmful to the dolphins, dangerous to people, and illegal under the
     federal Marine Mammal Protection Act .

     "We understand that people find it tempting to interact with wild
     dolphins.  However, folks must understand that feeding wild dolphins
     is harmful and is therefore illegal under federal law.  It is best for
     the dolphins' health and welfare to observe them at a respectful
     distance, to resist feeding them, and to avoid any activities that
     risk harassment such as chasing, touching or swimming with them," said
     Rollie Schmitten, director of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

     Feeding dolphins in the wild is illegal under the Marine Mammal
     Protection Act (MMPA) because the activity changes 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 the scientific
     research and environmental communities since provisioning of any
     species of wildlife is known to be harmful.

     An in-depth review conducted by the National Marine Fisheries
     Service, outside marine mammal experts, and the Marine Mammal
     Commission, determined that feeding marine mammals in the wild is
     contrary to the mandates of the MMPA to protect individuals, species
     and stocks of marine mammals, and alters their behavior in ways that
     place them at increased risk of injury and death.  Repeated exposure
     to humans and human activities has been correlated with placing these
     animals at greater risk of incidental interactions with vessels and
     fishing activities, vandalism, and ingestion of inappropriate and
     contaminated food items.  In addition, feeding may impact their
     ability or willingness to forage for food, which is of particular
     concern for young animals who need to learn foraging skills.

     The fisheries service is also concerned that "swim-with-dolphin"
     programs in the wild risk harassing the animals since such programs
     seek out and interact with dolphins in a manner that has the potential
     to disturb the animals' behavioral patterns.  Swim-with-dolphin
     activities in Panama City, Fla., are of particular concern because
     they are either directly facilitated by, or capitalize on, illegal
     dolphin feeding.

     An additional concern about interactions with wild dolphins is
     that individual animals may become labeled as "nuisance animals."  In
     the Southeast, this concern is growing as dolphins are being turned
     into aggressive panhandlers.  The fisheries service and local law
     enforcement officials have received numerous reports of people being
     injured by dolphins begging for food.

     "If people truly care for wild dolphins, they will allow them to
     stay wild by not interacting with them," said Schmitten.  "Please
     admire them from a safe distance of at least 50 yards."  More than a
     decade ago, the fisheries service enacted marine mammal watching
     guidelines that ask people to refrain from intentionally approaching
     or entering the water within 50 yards of a marine mammal in order to
     protect the animal and avoid harassment.  If the animal approaches the
     vessel, operators should maintain a constant speed and direction to
     avoid positioning the vessel in ways that would restrict or modify the
     animal's normal movements.