Watchable Wildlife Guidelines
The Code of Conduct
|Wildlife Law Definitions
|Take is defined as "to harass, hunt, capture, or kill, or attempt to harass, hunt, capture, or kill any marine mammal."
|Take is further defined by regulation to include feeding or attempting to feed a marine mammal in the wild.
|Harassment is defined in the MMPA as "any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild; or has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering." Some exceptions are made for specifically authorized scientific research.
Viewing wildlife in its natural habitat can be a wonderful and educational experience. Although tempting to try to get close enough to interact with wild animals, it's important to remember that their behavior can be unpredictable and aggressive. Thus, it's always best to view all wildlife from a safe and respectful distance, remembering that wild animals are just that - wild.
It's also tempting to feed a wild animal. It seems like such an innocent and harmless thing. But feeding wild animals can have deadly consequences for them and can place people in real danger. That's why feeding wildlife in national parks and refuges is illegal. In many states, feeding certain wild animals is punishable by fines and/or imprisonment.
These concepts apply to aquatic as well as terrestrial animals. The Marine Mammal Protection Act specifically addresses marine mammal issues and protects these animals by making it illegal to feed, pursue, or chase them in U.S. waters. In the Bahamas, the Wild Animals Protection Act prohibits the same activities.
The National Watchable Wildlife Program is promoted by an informal group of wildlife experts from government agencies and private organizations. The program has developed a list of "viewing tips" that can help you have a safe and enjoyable experience with wildlife while protecting our natural animal resources.
The Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums has adapted the Watchable Wildlife Guidelines and developed the golden rules on the next page for watching wildlife, especially marine mammals. As a member of the Alliance, Dolphin Encounters will provide you with a fun, safe and educational interaction with our dolphins. We also hope you leave with a greater knowledge of these magnificent mammals and encourage you to take an active part in protecting the Ocean.
The Myth of Flipper
The Flipper myth of a friendly wild dolphin has given us the wrong idea. Flipper was actually a trained dolphin under human care who did not bite the hand that fed him. However, truly wild dolphins will bite when they are angry, frustrated or afraid. When people try to swim with wild dolphins, the dolphins are disturbed. Dolphins who have become career moochers can get pushy, aggressive and threatening when they don't get the handout they expect.
They are really wild animals who should be treated with caution and respect. Interactions with people change the behavior of dolphins for the worse. They lose their natural wariness which makes them easy targets for vandalism and shark attacks.
Dolphin Encounters offers a unique opportunity to safely interact with dolphins. Your experience at Dolphin Encounters is only possible through the trusting relationship that the trainers have built with the animals in a healthy environment.
We do not condone interactions with wild dolphins for the many reasons you see below:
• People have been pulled under the water
A woman who fed a pair of dolphins and then jumped in the water to swim with them was bitten. "I literally ripped my left leg out of its mouth," she said during her week stay in the hospital.
• They can be severely injured
They learn to associate people with food and get entangled with fishing hooks and lines and die. They get sick from eating bait and people food like beer, pretzels, candy and hot dogs. And not all people are dolphin-lovers: this dolphin was gaffed by a fisherman who did not appreciate the dolphin trying to take his catch...
• Feeding wild dolphins disrupts their social groups which threatens their ability to survive in the wild
Young dolphins do not survive if their mothers compete with them for handouts and don't teach them to forage.
• They learn to beg for a living, lose their fear of humans, and do dangerous things
When people offer them food, dolphins like most animals, take the easy way out but it can threaten their lives. Dolphins that have been fed are more like to be seriously injured by approaching boats or spending time in areas of high boat traffic.
Don't Feed Wild Animals: Wild animals fed by people can…
• Get "hooked" on handouts
They can lose their ability to find and catch their own food. For example, dolphins that become dependent on humans have been known to abandon their young, leaving calves alone to starve and fight off predators. Young dolphins that have not been taught to forage naturally are at the most risk.
• Associate people with food and lose their fear of people
Wild marine mammals that are unafraid of people are more likely to endanger themselves by approaching boats or spending time in areas with high vessel traffic.
• Destroy the environment or cause property destruction
Wild sea lions that have been fed by people have hauled out on docks and into boats, doing damage as they search for food.
• Become aggressive towards people
Feeding causes wild animals to change their natural behavior. Wild dolphins and sea lions that have become accustomed to being fed have charged, bitten, and otherwise injured people.
• Become more likely to eat trash and debris
Eating plastic wrappers or other litter can harm an animal's digestive tract or lead to its death.
FOR ALL THESE REASONS
LET THE WILD ONES STAY WILD
IF ON THE WATER
• Avoid excessive boat speed or abrupt changes in speed or direction
If animals are crossing your path, slow or stop your boat to allow them to safely pass. Manatees have been sliced by propellers when boaters ignore speed limits. If dolphins approach your boat to surf the wave in front or behind the vessel, maintain a steady speed and direction so they can pick a safe distance to travel with you and you can continue to enjoy viewing their graceful acrobatics!
IF ON LAND
• Observe animals such as seals or sea lions that are "hauled out" without alerting them to your presence
The pups of seals and sea lions have been trampled by adult animals startled by disruptive tourists.
• Limit time spent observing animals
Encounters with people can be stressful to animals and can alter their normal behaviors. Half an hour is reasonable. Chances are you haven't been the only one to approach the animal that day.
• Stay clear of mothers with young
Nests, dens, and rookeries are especially vulnerable to human disturbance. Never herd, chase, or separate a mother from its young or try to handle pups.
• Resist the temptation to "save" animals, especially "orphans"
Mom is usually watching from a safe distance. If an animal appears sick, get professional help by calling animal control officers or, if appropriate, a local zoo or aquarium.
• Never surround an animal
Always leave an "escape" route. Dolphins, whales, and manatees should not be trapped between boats, or between boats and shore.
• Keep pets on a leash or leave them at home
Both pets and wild animals can be hurt if bitten. There is also danger of disease transmission.
• Don't litter
Leave a habitat better than you found it. When enjoying nature and watching wild animals, carry along a trash bag and pick up litter when you see it.
And, most importantly, don't feed wild animals!