It’s Time to ’LEGO’ of Feeding Wild Dolphins
A new toy by LEGO, the “Dolphin Cruiser,” and the accompanying online game encourages both feeding and interacting with wild dolphins – the fish included in the toy are even referred to as “dolphin food.” LEGO is a worldwide and well-loved company that usually encourages imaginative play, but this toy teaches children illegal and irresponsible behaviors, including attempting to feed wild dolphins and jet-skiing in close proximity to them.
In reality, both these behaviors constitute harassment under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), are potentially extremely harmful to dolphins, and subject the people involved to fines and possible jail time – up to $100,000 or one year in jail per violation. As co-developers of the voluntary stewardship program Dolphin SMART, which encourages responsible and safe viewing of wild dolphins, WDC is encouraging LEGO to discontinue the “Dolphin Cruiser” toy and game, or change it to promote legal, safe, and SMART dolphin viewing.
Please help us tell LEGO that they need to change the “Dolphin Cruiser” so the next generation doesn’t even consider feeding dolphins in the wild. Dolphins already face a number of threats to their well-being and survival, many of which result from human activity (directly or indirectly). Send an email to LEGO (complaint about a product) telling them that the “Dolphin Cruiser” promotes illegal and irresponsible behavior, and that you want to see it changed for the better. Or, leave a comment directly on the toy’s webpage to let LEGO know and inform others of the risks of closely interacting with or feeding wild dolphins. Changing our behavior is a simple thing we can do to negate at least one of these threats, and keep wild dolphins safe – and wild – for years to come.
What happens when we feed dolphins in the wild:
Although feeding animals in the wild may seem to be a unique and fun opportunity to get a closer look, it never ends well for the animal. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) concluded long ago that feeding dolphins in the wild causes harm both to individual dolphins and the entire population. It seems so harmless initially – you toss a few fish to some cute bottlenose dolphins and they hang around your boat a bit longer, keeping you entertained through the rare pleasure of a close encounter of the aquatic kind. But when everyone in an area wants to have this type of encounter and the dolphins are fed more often by more people, it causes numerous problems and far-reaching consequences for the dolphins involved.
In the late 80’s, a population of dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico was being fed regularly by boats using the dolphins as a tourist attraction, prompting an investigation by NOAA. The agency concluded that feeding wild dolphins was detrimental to the entire population, and determined that the action should be listed as harassment under the MMPA; now, feeding marine mammals in the wild is explicitly prohibited by the implementing regulations of the MMPA.
Associating humans and boats with food turns dolphins into “beggars” that have lost their natural wariness of people and human activities, putting them at higher risk of entanglement, vessel strikes, harassment, and deliberate attack. Dolphins begging for food frequent marinas and high-traffic areas, increasing their chances of being hit by boats, propellers, or other personal watercrafts (like jet-skis). When dolphins become used to eating dead fish, they will take bait or catch from fishing lines, increasing their chances of becoming entangled in line or hooks. This action may even incur the wrath of fishermen who see the dolphins as “nuisance animals” that disturb their fishing practices – resulting in direct harm or harassment to the dolphins in an effort to “shoo” them away from fishing boats.
Dolphins may become aggressive towards people or each other, fighting to protect their “food source.” They have bitten swimmers while looking for food, and as they are mammals (just like us), disease transmission is a very real possibility, and has happened in several cases. As a highly social species, mother dolphins pass skills and knowledge on to their young. When they are habituated to receiving food from boats, mothers teach their calves begging behavior instead of the skills needed to properly hunt and care for themselves. Random feeding of wild dolphins usually includes inappropriate items like “people food,” or fish that hasn’t been properly stored – their nutritional needs are not met and their overall health and fitness will be lower when they rely on people as their food source.
For more information on safe and responsible dolphin viewing, please check out the Dolphin SMART website, NOAA’s Protect Dolphins campaign, or dontfeedwilddolphins.org.