Dolphins. Everybody loves dolphins. It’s not just dolphins either. People love exotic animals in general. Exotic animals are out of the ordinary, and people are constantly exposed to them in zoos and on television. It is obvious that if people got the chance to feed a dolphin or pet a gorilla, they would be easily enticed. Unfortunately, it’s a growing problem in marine environments more so than others because human and animal worlds frequently and directly overlap. There are always people at the beach or on boats, jet skis, or surfboards. There usually are not many “everyday joes” hiking through the rainforest behind their house and having a run-in with a panther. Besides that it is way more likely to be exposed to dolphins, sharks, or sea turtles than other exotic animals, media coverage has perpetuated stories about the friendly nature of dolphins. I think most people believe every dolphin is going to be like Flipper or save them from an impending shark attack. Surprise! It’s not true. I’m sure you have heard stories of trained animals attacking their keepers and even killing them. It sounds obvious, but wild animals are wild animals, and one should always expect them to act that way.
This article is about the dangerous and damaging effects that can happen to the animal (and the human) when people try to get too comfy with the wildlife. Beggar was a wild dolphin that had the bad habit of “begging” for food from humans. Although this may seem fun for the people (unless you get bitten), it is very harmful to the dolphin and reinforces this negative behavior. During my own internship with sea turtles and dolphins, it was very important that when we fed the animals, they did not see us feeding them exactly for this reason. It is not good to have wild animals associate humans with food. (All our rehab animals were trying to be released back into the wild, whereas non-releasable animals need to be aware who feeds them so they can get proper training and behavioral enrichment.) You may think it’s not so bad to feed wild dolphins a couple fish, but you would also be reinforcing the begging behavior and opening up the opportunity for other people to try to feed the dolphin beer (as observed in this article). I encourage you to read the article and remember wild animals are amazing, but need to be admired from a distance.