was a wild dolphin with a bad habit.

Beggar at work. (Photo: Sarasota Dolphin Research Program)

In August 1990, Sarasota Dolphin Research Program (SDRP) researchers encountered an unusual phenomenon in the southern portion of their primary Florida study area. A lone juvenile dolphin approached the research boat and opened his mouth, apparently seeking a food handout. Over the next 22 years the researchers saw him nearly 400 times, in the same area, and nearly always engaged in seeking food from humans. Mostly, he was alone, but on occasion he was seen with other individuals, several of whom were subsequently observed engaging in begging behavior. Beggar was the most predictable member of the resident Sarasota Bay dolphin community–if you went to his range, you had a high probability of finding him, often behaving badly.

Beggar as juvenile 1990. (Photo: Sarasotat Dolphin Research Program)

Because of his bad behavior Beggar became the subject of research projects, town-hall meetings, and class-room visits, television and print stories and the posting of signs in the Intracoastal Waterway warning people to not engage in the illegal activities of feeding or petting wild dolphins—to educate boaters and anglers about the problems of feeding wild dolphins, a growing problem in the southeastern United States.

Dr. Katie McHugh of SDRP spent 100 hours observing his behavior and that of the boaters who encountered him from March to June 2011. She documented these interactions:

  • 3,600 interactions between Beggar and humans—up to 70/hr.
  • 169 attempts to feed him 520 food items—everything from shrimp and squid to beer, hot dogs and fruit.
  • 121 attempts to touch him—resulting in nine bites to the humans doing the petting.

McHugh also found that having law enforcement on hand was the most effective means of getting people to stop interacting with Beggar. When officers were on the water, boaters were much less likely to approach Beggar, and Beggar was much more likely to forage for food when humans stopped giving him handouts.

Boaters feeding Beggar. (Photo: Sarasotat Dolphin Research Program)

Boaters feeding Beggar. (Photo: Sarasotat Dolphin Research Program)

In September 2012, Beggar was found dead. A necropsy showed that his interactions with humans played an overall role in his death:

  • He was covered with propeller wounds and multiple broken ribs and vertebrae consistent with boat strikes.
  • He was markedly underweight and dehydrated—possibly because he was not eating a normal dolphin diet.

There is a common misconception that feeding, touching and swimming with dolphins is not harmful and that they don’t get hit by boats. Beggar is just one of many wild dolphins in the southeast U.S. that have been fed by people and learned to associate people with food. Viewing dolphins responsibly–without feeding–is crucial to their survival.

Source: Sarasota Dolphin Research Program.
Thanks also to: bloggerheadseaturtle.