On Sunday, beachgoers found a sick dolphin on the beach, pushed it back into the sea and attempted to swim and ride the stressed animal near Freeport.
QUINTANA, Texas – According to the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network, beachgoers are partially blamed for the death of a sick dolphin.
It happened on Quintana Beach, in the Freeport area. On Sunday, beachgoers found a sick dolphin on the beach and pushed it back into the sea and attempted to swim and ride the sick animal.
The female dolphin ended up stranded again on the beach where she was mobbed by a crowd of people, the network said in a Facebook post.
“This kind of harassment creates undue stress on wild dolphins, is dangerous to the people who interact with them, and is illegal — punishable by fines and jail time if convicted,” the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network said in the post.
TAMU Galveston Marine Biologist Dr. Christopher Marshall said beachgoers may not have known that dolphins and all marine mammals, as well as sea turtles, are federally protected.
“In this case, it’s a pretty blatant example of how not to do it,” Marshall said. “People riding the animal, the animal was quite sick, already stressed at the moment. The animal was probably on the edge and the stress killed it.”
Marshall said it’s not uncommon for bottlenose dolphins to wash up along the Texas coast, but you should definitely follow the rules if you come across one.
“You could get into serious trouble with the police. You can be fined or jailed. It’s a serious problem,” Marshall said. “It really enriches our lives to have these animals around us. They are very beautiful and they are very important for the ecosystem.”
The network advises beachgoers to call 1-800-9MAMMAL (9626625) immediately if they spot a live dolphin or whale on a Texas beach. They also tell them not to push the animal back out to sea, try to swim or interact with them or crowd around them.
Click here for more information about harassing wild dolphins.
Here’s some more information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries:
Why is it illegal to feed, attempt to feed, or harass marine mammals in the wild?
The regulations of the Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibit feeding, attempting to feed, and harassing marine mammals in the wild. These activities are illegal because they harm the animals in the following ways:
- Marine mammals associate humans with food, lose their natural wariness of humans or boats, and become conditioned to receive handouts.
- Marine mammals alter their natural behaviour, including feeding and migration activities, and show a reduced willingness to forage for food on their own. They can also start taking bait/catch fishing gear. These changed behaviors can be passed on to their young and other members of their social groups, increasing their risk of injury from boats, entanglement in fishing gear and intentional harm from people frustrated by the changes in behavior.
- Marine mammals can eat contaminated (old or spoiled) food or non-food items. Feeding marine mammals inappropriate food, non-food items or contaminated food endangers their health.
- Marine mammals sometimes become aggressive when foraging for food and have been known to bite or injure humans when bullied or expecting food.
- Marine mammals include dolphins, porpoises, whales, seals, sea lions and manatees.
How does the MMPA define “harassment”?
The MMPA lists two levels of harassment:
- Level A Harassment means any pursuit, harassment, or annoyance that has the potential to injure a marine mammal or stock of marine mammals in the wild.
- Level B harassment refers to acts that have the potential to disrupt (but not injure) marine mammals or marine mammals in the wild by disrupting behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or shelter.
Does NOAA Fisheries have a policy on interacting with marine mammals in the wild?
NOAA Fisheries has a policy on human interactions with wild marine mammals that states:
- Interaction with wild marine mammals should not be attempted, and marine mammal viewing should be conducted in a manner that does not harass the animals.
- NOAA Fisheries does not support, approve, approve, or authorize any activity that involves closely approaching, handling, or attempting to communicate with whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, or sea lions in the wild. This includes trying to swim with, pet, touch, or provoke a reaction in the animals.