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How to — and how not to — help dolphins during the oil spill

July 8th, 2010


From Green Right Now Reports

You’ve probably encountered those “Don’t Feed the Bears” signs in national parks. Well, it’s true of dolphins also.

NOAA has put out notice that the public should not feed, corral, swim or approach dolphins in the gulf, even if they appear distressed from possible exposure to the oil spill.

But residents concerned about suffering or stranded dolphins should call in about them on the federal government’s wildlife hotline at 866-557-1401.

While they wait for a response team, they can and should:

  • Stay with the animal until rescuers arrive, but use caution. Keep a safe distance from the head and tail.
  • Keep crowds away and noise levels down to avoid causing further stress to the animal.
  • Keep dogs and other pets away from live or dead marine mammals.

Untrained members of the public should NOT:

  • Push the animal back out to sea – this delays examination and treatment, and often results in the animal re-stranding itself in worse condition.
  • Approach, feed, or swim with the animal. (These are wild animals.)
  • Collect any parts from dead marine mammals. This is prohibited under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

“Any attempt to capture, move, lead, or scare groups of dolphins out of an area would do more harm than good,” said Laura Engleby, marine mammal biologist for NOAA’s Fisheries Service. “Moving or relocating dolphins could reduce the chance of survival and stress that may place the animals at greater risk of injury or death.”

And as with the park bears, dolphins should not be viewed as pets or proxy pets. Trying to protect them in bays or secluded areas and feeding them could be harmful in the long run, hurting their instincts to hunt and survive, according to a dolphin protocol report put out by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The agency reports that it has fielded many calls from concerned citizens wanting to help the coastal bottlenose dolphins and it will send a response team to determine if a dolphin needs rescuing or is best left in the environment.

NOAA, which has scientists studying the effects of the oil spill on dolphins, also warns that dolphins can exhibit behavior that could be misinterpreted as distress signs:  “Natural behaviors include resting, loud exhalations at the water surface (which sounds like a chuff) or feeding.   For example, dolphins have many strategies to catch fish, such as “strand “or “mud” feeding where the dolphins herd fish into shallow areas to feed. This behavior can seem alarming to watch if people are not familiar with it since the dolphins often work in very shallow water and actually beach themselves as they chase fish onto shore.”

  • NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Visit us at http://www.noaa.gov or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/usnoaagov.

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