Dolphins have a reputation for being friendly, but they've been known to bite the hands that feed them. The National Marine Fisheries say an increase of bites have been reported, and more dolphins are falling prey to boat propellers. Now they're trying to reverse the trend through education.
The National Marine Fisheries released a public service announcement a week after observing a disturbing trend off the coast of shell island. Dolphins getting hand outs. Not only by recreational boaters, but commercial "dolphin watching" operations who know it's against the law to feed them.
"People are making a lot of money off of tourists who want to feed the dolphins. They learn boats and people mean food. You've created a monster in Panama City," says Russ Rector, President of Dolphin Freedom Foundation.
State and federal authorities tried to eradicate the monster in the late 1990s with large fines, but when the cases went to court judges threw them out. That may be because the state's law doesn't mention dolphin feeding, but instead addresses the harassment of the mammals.
"The judge didn't feel like it rose to the merit of harassment. That's why we try to educate instead. Most will hopefully stop feeding them," says Stan Kirkland, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.
State and federal officials are now trying to turn back the tide on the dolphin problem. Some say it's about time.
"Both agencies overlooked it for other things. It's not right that they spent taxpayers’ money back in the late 90s to eradicate the problem and they should want it to stay gone," says Rector.
So what do you do if you see a dolphin while boating. According to the National Marine Fisheries you'll want to stay at least 50 yards away and limit your viewing to 30 minutes.