Dolphin Feeding and Watching Tours Coming Under Attack

An undercover observation by the National Marine Fisheries finds a significant increase in people feeding, chasing and swimming with wild dolphins, especially around Shell Island south of Panama City.

Federal law prohibits the activity, but local law enforcement is finding it hard to eradicate the problem.

In the late 1990s, state and federal officials cracked down on dolphin feeding. Fines were issued and many commercial operations that advertised dolphin feedings changed their signs to dolphin watching.

Now the feds say private boaters and commercial operations, especially guided jet-ski tours are at it again.

National Marine Fisheries is hoping a new TV public service announcement will remind people about the dangers of feeding and harassing dolphins.

They say it changes the animals’ wild instincts and can cause harm to them if they swim near boat propellers or pose a danger to you because the dolphins can become too aggressive.

Just last week investigators from Marine Fisheries visited Panama City Beach and observed what they called blatant feeding of dolphins by recreational boaters and "dolphin watching" operations.

Dolphin advocates say money is partly to blame.

"People are making a lot of money taking tourists out to swim and feed the dolphins, and then you got the locals who think it's their god given right to feed those dolphins and it's not. It's illegal. It's just like going into Yellowstone National Park and feeding the bears. It's like someone opening a business there to feed the bears. There's no difference in Panama City and Shell Island."

Florida Fish and Wildlife officials say they're taking an educational approach to the problem. They warn boaters that it's illegal to harass dolphins, but they say the state court system is making it hard for them to prosecute repeat offenders.