[MARINE_BIOLOGY_INTERNATIONAL] Wild Louisiana dolphin is no "Flipper"


Wild dolphin near Slidell is naturally aggressive and must be ignored, experts say
Published: Monday, June 25, 2012, 9:55 PM
Updated: Monday, June 25, 2012, 10:06 PM
By Ramon Antonio Vargas, The Times-Picayune

People who come in to contact with the dolphin living in waterways within the Lakeshore Estates subdivision near Slidell should do their best to ignore the animal, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service representatives told a Lakeshore Estates Homeowners Association meeting on Monday. People have touched, fed and swam with the wild male bottle-nosed dolphin, so the animal is no longer wary of humans or boats, and even approaches them for food. The dolphin is aggressive by nature and at times likes to bite, head-butt and chase acquaintances.

View full sizeBen Wallace
A lone male bottle-nosed dolphin has made a Lakeshore Estates waterway its home since Hurricane Katrina, when its parents probably swam into the waterway for safety, marine experts say. Soon after the storm, the parents left the area, leaving their newborn calf behind.
"People need to be content to observe, not interact" with the dolphin, said NOAA Marine Mammal Branch chief Laura Engleby. If not, others will join the three people who have recently received treatment at a local hospital for bites from the creature that Engleby dubbed "the Slidell dolphin." Meanwhile, the dolphin, by its continued interaction, risks both injury and the loss of its ability to hunt for its own food, a crucial survival skill, said Stacey Horstman, Engleby's colleague at NOAA.
The dolphin in question made the Lakeshore Estates area its home about the time of Hurricane Katrina. It was a newborn, and its parents probably swam there for safety but left the calf behind after the storm, officials have said.
The sociable dolphin has attracted many spectators, some of whom ignore two signs along the water admonishing people to not feed or disturb the animal. Swimmers and boaters have jumped on the dolphin to feed or play with it, and a few have been bitten as a result.

View full size
During a 30-minute presentation at the Northshore Harbor Center on Monday, Engleby and Horstman informed listeners about the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which prohibits giving food to wild dolphins and doing anything that could potentially injure or disturb them. Violators could be fined and imprisoned.
The Slidell dolphin -- like other males of its kind -- wants to exert its dominance over every being it encounters, even the humans it swims up to, Engleby and Horstman said. Aside from headbutting, chasing and biting, it may open its mouth to seem bigger and more intimidating; pop its jaw loudly; or slap others with its tail. People should not interpret those behaviors as an invitation to pet or feed the dolphin, though, or they can be hurt, the NOAA representatives said.
Humans' socializing with dolphins is also dangerous for the animals. Horstman flashed a photograph showing a mark from a fishing hook on the Slidell dolphin's snout. Dolphins far and wide get entangled with fishing gear from boats or are struck by the vessels. They occasionally annoy people who retaliate by shooting, stabbing or gashing them.
"This is a very real consequence," Horstman said. "When (dolphins) become accustomed to people, they can also become annoyances to people."
In a question-and-answer session at the end of the presentation, Lakeshore Estates resident Andrew Stoll pointed out that most of the folks disturbing the dolphin do not live in the upscale neighborhood. One person pleaded with officials to restrict traffic on the waterways the dolphin frequents, and complained about the commotion from outsiders flocking to Lakeshore Estates to see the dolphin.
All of that prompted a Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries agent in attendance to assure residents he and his colleagues would cite Marine Mammal Protection Act violators.
From the audience, Ed Bordes asked about capturing the dolphin and moving it to an aquarium, before it drowned a child. He asked why officials would prefer "to protect Mickey Mouse" instead of ensuring the safety of residents.
Horstman and Engleby said that simply leaving the dolphin alone would cause it to resort to more traditional behavior. They said the dolphin may not adjust well to a forced relocation to an aquarium, and if taken to another habitat in the wild, he would likely either not survive or simply swim back home to Lakeshore Estates.
Horstman said, "If we start to modify our behaviors, we will change dolphins' behaviors."

Recent Activity:



Post a Comment