Wouldn’t it be a dream come true to have a wild dolphin or manatee swim up to your boat, where you could feed, pet, and swim with it? Believe it or not, both these scenarios, especially the one regarding dolphins, happen in Florida waterways. However, if approached by a wild animal, even if it simply be a pelican or seagull begging for handouts, please don’t feed it! Wild animals need to stay wild to survive, and feeding them encourages them to stop naturally foraging and instead beg for food from humans. This can often put the animal in danger – this especially applies to dolphins and manatees, which can be put at a high risk of being accidentally struck by boats or becoming entangled in fishing gear.
(Above) Two dolphins in Gasparilla Sound, RD-10 “Zenil” and T-61 “Acara,” who have been struck by boats, likely because of being fed by tourists.
Not only is feeding wild dolphins and manatees harmful for them, but it’s also against the law in the United States. Penalties are sizable, and may include a fine of up to $11,000, up to a year in prison, and the forfeiture of the vessel involved, plus a penalty for the vessel of up to $25,000.