Human feeding may have helped kill dolphin

Sept. 25, 2012 at 3:13 PM

SARASOTA, Fla., Sept. 25 (UPI) -- A bottlenose dolphin has died after 20 years of enticing food from Florida boaters, behavior that earned him the nickname Beggar.

Beggar's decomposed carcass was discovered last week in his longtime foraging ground in the Inland Waterway near Sarasota, the Tampa Bay Times reported. Scientists who examined the remains say Beggar was, ironically, underweight and the many tourists and fishermen who tossed him sandwiches and leftover bait may have helped kill him with kindness.

Gretchen Lovewell of Mote Marine Laboratory, who necropsied Beggar, said he bore scars from encounters with boat propellors and she found fishhooks and "squid beaks," horny projections fishermen sometimes use as bait, in his stomach.

"All of these things indicate that he was spending more time attempting to get food from humans than foraging on his own," Lovewell said.

Randy Wells of the Chicago Zoological Society, who is directing a program at Mote, said Beggar was almost 200 pounds underweight.

The National Marine Fisheries Service used Beggar's death as a reminder that dolphins are wild animals and close encounters with humans can be dangerous for both parties.

"There is a common misconception that feeding, touching and swimming with dolphins is not harmful and they don't get hit by boats," said Stacey Horstman, the group's bottlenose dolphin conservation coordinator. "Responsible viewing of dolphins is crucial to their survival."

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