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Feeding dolphins leads to increased animal injuries

Wild dolphins are more likely to be injured if humans feed them — even through unintentional means like discarding bait — reports a new study based in Sarasota Bay, Florida, and published recently in the peer-reviewed journal Royal Society Open Science.

The researchers investigated why bottlenose dolphins begin seeking human-provided food and how this affects their risk of injury. The paper’s lead author from Murdoch University in Western Australia and researchers from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland analyzed data collected from 1993-2014 by the Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield Zoo’s Sarasota Dolphin Research Program wild dolphin experts and Mote Marine Laboratory’s Stranding Investigations Program.

“This is the first study that directly links human-related feeding of wild dolphins — intentional or not — with increased risks of injury from human interactions such as boat strikes, entanglement in fishing gear or ingestion of hooks and line,” said Dr. Katie McHugh, staff scientist of the Chicago Zoological Society’s (CZS) Sarasota Dolphin Research Program (SDRP), a program of CZS in collaboraton with Mote. “During the time span of this study, we saw an increase in the number of dolphins seeking and accepting food provided by humans. We asked: Why are we seeing this increase and what are the consequences?”

In, SDRP and Mote scientists work to educate the public that feeding or harassing wild marine mammals is dangerous and illegal under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act. Violators can be fined thousands of dollars, or in serious cases, spend up to a year in jail.

“Animals can die from human interactions — for instance, we examined a dolphin known as FB93 who was recovered dead with a fish hook embedded in her head leading to fishing line around her larynx, strangling her,” said Gretchen Lovewell, manager of Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program.

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