Friday, 13 November 2009
Human-interactions with dolphins involve risks to both humans and dolphins that could lead to injury, illness, or even death. Feeding dolphins is illegal under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act. However, informal discussions with residents of Savannah, Georgia, indicate that many people in this region are unaware of or unwilling to follow this law. Illegal feeding is believed to have led to begging behavior by the local dolphins. This study was designed to quantify the frequency of begging in the waterways of Savannah. Surveys were conducted from 16 April 2009 to 4 August 2009 and dolphin interactions with humans and vessels were recorded. Begging was observed on 28 out of 46 (61%) days surveyed. A total of 242 dolphin groups were recorded during these surveys and 53 (22%) of these sightings included animals that begged at our boat or another vessel. These rates are much higher than those found in other areas of the Southeast United States. For example, in Sarasota, Florida, human-interactions were observed on 19% of survey days and 3.4% of sightings in 2006. In the same year, more than 2% of the resident dolphin population was lost in Sarasota due to interactions with recreational fishing gear, a rate of loss that was determined to be unsustainable for that population. In addition, the interactions in Savannah appear to have a wider spatial distribution than expected based on other areas with known begging problems. In Panama City, Florida, begging is confined to an area less than 1 n.mile2. In Savannah we have observed begging throughout the study area which covers almost 100 n.miles2. It is not known how this high prevalence of begging is affecting the dolphin population in Savannah. The next step is an education campaign to prevent continued illegal feeding of these animals.
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