Feeding Wild Dolphins=Illegal

Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, it’s illegal to feed wild dolphins in US waters (photo is a screen from a youtube video of a tourist feeding a wild dolphin in Georgia)

With summer being around the horizon, I know that a lot of people will likely be visiting coastal areas for their vacation which also means for boat-goers it means that it’s a time to take that boat out to water to enjoy the beauty of nature. Some of these boat-goers will likely be wanting to see some marine life in their natural habitat and from my experience of seeing marine life out in the wild, it’s truly magical to see humpbacks breaching, or manatees coming right up to boat out of curiosity, or the sight of a pod of wild dolphins swimming passed your boat. However, some people love wildlife so much that they often go a little too far, and that does include feeding wild dolphins sadly. In the United States alone, it’s illegal to feed wild dolphins in US waters under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, a law that bans any disturbance of any wild marine mammal in American territorial waters. It also defines harassment as any act of unlawful pursuit, torment, or annoyance that may cause potential harm marine mammals in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns such as feeding, migration, breeding, nursing, breathing, and sheltering.

Feeding wild dolphins can be very harmful to them on every level because their behavior will change from being hunters to becoming beggars once humans start feeding them. Studies that have been done on beggar dolphins for decades have shown that wild dolphin pods that receive handouts from humans were more likely to be unwilling to hunt for their own food because they have been used to receiving handouts. To make matters worse, it has also been known to cause a huge high in juvenile mortality rates for the young animals were never properly taught by their mothers how to hunt, which has made them at risk of predation by sharks and killer whales. In addition, reports from NOAA have shown that beggar dolphins have been known to become very aggressive towards people who had no handouts left for them while there’s evidence of them trying to steal fish off of fishing lines after they have learned to receive food from people.

Remember, feeding wild dolphins is such a huge offense that it’s a $20,000 fine or a year in jail and if you see someone trying to feed a wild dolphin, please report it to NOAA officals right away at 1-800-853-1964.


Moko: A New Zealand Icon

Moko was a well known wild-friendly dolphin who was known to interact with beach goers in New Zealand. (Photo by Johannes Okubo)

Moko was juvenile male Pacific bottlenose dolphin who was known to be very friendly around humans off the coast of New Zealand. Born around 2006, he had associate with humans on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island for three years. While little is known about his early life before his association with people, we can assume that first year of life, Moko was likely in the presernce of his mother and birth pod. Normally, most young dolphins will stay with their mothers until they are at least six years old, but Moko was a year old when he was sighted alone in New Zealand’s Mahia Beach where his interactions with humans began.

Moko first made international headlines in March 2008 when he was seen helping two pygmy sperm whales, a mother and her calf, back out to sea after they got trapped between a sandbar and the beach where they stranded. The two animals were found by a local man who told his neighbors and a department of conservation worker before they spent nearly two hours trying to refloat them with no success. However, just as the group was about the make the decision to euthanize the mother-and-calf pair, Moko apporached the distressed whales and led them through a narrow of channel that eventually led them back out to sea.

During his time in Mahia, Moko became known as an international celebrity with a reputation for interacting with beach goers. (Screenshot from 3News New Zealand documentary, “Loved to Death: Moko the Dolphin’s Story”)

After word went out about Moko’s heroric rescue efforts on two pygmy sperm whales, beach goers began to interact with him in the water. It all started when a local woman named Kristie Carrington started looking after Moko after she got in the water with him for the first time, over time, she and Moko started to form a bond together. As word on Carrington’s encounters with Moko was out, many people wanted to have that same chance to encounter him as she did. So, she would start allowing a small group of people interact with him in the water during their time at Mahia Beach. For Carrington herself, she saw that Moko’s interactions with human swimmers was beneficial for him even though there were dangerous risks that were involved. For example, there had been a number of reports of Moko getting aggressive towards swimmers on numerous occasions, which is not uncommon in wild-friendly dolphins. In addition, there has been at least one report of a woman in the Bay of Pleanty hitting Moko with a canoe oar. As a result, marine biologists began to become concern about his welfare which was followed by a study in which he was found to have had scars from boats and a fish hook. A number of organizations have tried to inform the New Zealand public to give animal space in all hopes he would reunite with his own kind one day.

Sadly, on July 7th, 2010, Moko was found dead in Matakana Island, New Zealand. Although his cause of death is unkown, some experts believe that he likely died from drowning in set nets. He would go on to become the 15th known wild-friendly dolphin to have either died or injured as a result of human interactions. After his necropsy, Moko was buried under Maori tradition on the same island where his body was found.  Since his death,  he had been declared as one of Time Magazine’s top ten heroic animals and his life has been the subject of a TV documentary in New Zealand.


An Orca Named Luna

Luna (L-98) was a southern resident killer whale who was known to fostering friendships with people.

Luna (L-98) was a southern resident killer whale who was born in September 1999 to mother Splash (L-67) as a member of the Southern Resident orca community. When he was first sighted by a whale watch boat, it appeared that both mother and son had some sort of disassociation from each other. Normally when killer whales give birth, other members of their pod swim by them to assist the mother in caring for newborn calves. However, in Luna’s case, there were no other whales that were nearby to help Splash care for her son. Soon afterward, Luna left his mother’s side and started following and connecting with several members of K-pod for three days. In the spring of 2000, Luna and Splash were sighted together and it appeared that they were now having a normal mother-and-calf relationship after speculation of weather of not Splash was Luna’s mother due to their multiple separations. In September of that year, Luna was sighted traveling with his birth pod for an annual migration. But in the winter of 2000/2001, Luna was not sighted with his pod and was declared “dead”. But in the fall of 2001, Luna re-appeared alone in Nootka Sound, British Colombia on the northern west coast of Vancouver Island, hundreds of kilometers away from other Southern resident orcas. At that time, members of the Mowachaht nation began to call Luna “Tsux’iit, after a deceased chief who wanted to return in the form of either an orca or a wolf after he died. To his people, Luna’s appearance, which happened four days after his death, was considered to be so symbolic that the tribe believed that the animal was his living reincarnation.

A family interacts with Luna from a small boat.

At first, Luna, like most wild orcas, avoided contact with boaters and kept his distance away from people. But, by the summer of 2002, word began to spread about a lone killer whale in Nootka Sound. At the same time, Luna was beginning to interact  boaters by nudging their boats around and spinning them around like bath-tub toys before bouncing them up-and-down by pushing on the hull. As the summer went by, Luna began to interact with people more and the interaction with boats and people were beginning serve as the companionship and physical contact he would have normally received from his mother and the rest of his pod. By September 2002, reports of boaters feeding Luna beer and potato chips. As a result,  some people who were caught in such acts were fine by the Canadian government. This was because in both the United States and Canada, it is illegal to disturb marine mammals in any shape or form. Meanwhile, Luna was beginning to show sign of minor injuries from likely collisions with small boats.  Cetaceans who lose their dear of boats are more likely to get hit by boats, which can lead to either injury or even death. Playful whales themselves, can severely damage boats and accidentally but human passengers in danger. Wildlife officials have made efforts to post signs that would educate the public to keep their boats away from Luna, but still, Luna continued to approach both boats and boaters.

There had been a huge number of efforts to relocate Luna to his Southern Resident pod, but efforts failed because of Native American opposition.

In 2004, scientists called for the beginning to start efforts to relocate him back to his birth pod. The first plan was to attempt to use a small boat and lead the animal out of Nootka Sound and into the Southern Resident pods as they were heading up to the mouth of Nootka in the early summer months. If the plan did not work out, then the second plan was to recapture Luna and have him transferred to a sea pen in Pedder Bay where he would be released back into L-pod. However, both plans were opposed by Native American tribes due to Luna’s “sacred” status. These plans were proposed by both the Canadian government and scientists at the Vancouver Aquarium. This was not the first time scientists has attempted to relocate an orphaned killer whale back to it’s pod. It has been done before and unlike Luna’s, the efforts were successful.

Springer (A-73) is currently the only known killer whale whose reintroduction into a wild pod was documented as successful.

In 2002, the Vancouver Aquarium rescued an orphan killer whale named Springer, who was left motherless after her mother died. When she was first rescued, she was in poor condition and was relocated to a sea pen for rehabilitation after months of heated debate. Like Luna, Springer had developed the habit of approaching boats and rubbing against them. Many feared that she would be at risk of getting hit by a vessel in Puget Sound, the area where she was sighted after her mother’s death. After being relocated to a sea pen, Springer was given treatment for health problems and received extra food. The following July, she was transferred to a second sea pen on Hanson Island, British Colombia. The next morning, Springer was released near her close relatives and by the following October, she was back with her birth pod. Currently, the release of Springer is currently the only known release of a killer whale to be documented as successful.

Luna's interaction with boats costed him his life.

On March 10th, 2006, Luna was hit and killed by a boat that he had grown familiar with. It’s believed that Luna went up to a tugboat to engage in playful activity before he got pulled into the blades and died. His death brought a lot of anger to people who blamed the Canadian government for not doing enough to enforce national law that would have restricted public access to him. One scientist even criticized the Canadian government for failure to take action to rescue and relocate him to his family pod. Meanwhile, Luna’s family experienced two huge losses back in the San Juan Islands. His mother Splash and younger brother Aurora (L-101) both went missing in 2008 and both animals are presumed dead. Since his death, Luna’s story has become the subject of an award winning documentary called The Whale.