Beggar the dolphin was found dead on Friday, and it appears that the past 20 years of human feeding are at least partially to blame for his demise.
The freeloading dolphin has been entertaining boaters for more than 20 years in Blackburn Bay, on the Gulf Coast, but his partially decomposed, underweight body was discovered on Friday near Albee Road Bridge in south Sarasota County, reports The Tampa Bay Times.
Beggar was known for approaching almost every passing boat, sticking his head out of the water, and asking for food. Much to wildlife biologists’ dismay, thousands of people complied with his requests, feeding him anything from shrimp, hot dogs, and pretzels, to beer.
Despite the fact that signs on the shore warn that feeding dolphins is illegal (petting them is too), gawkers on boats couldn’t help themselves when it came to the begging bottle-nosed dolphin. Tourists on boats and even anglers heading home fed him sandwiches and rotting fishing bait.
Despite the dolphin’s unfriendly nature, hundreds tried to pet him; many of those who tried ended up being bitten, including one woman who was severely injured when she tried to swim with him.
NBC News notes that the Sarasota County Marine Patrol brought Beggar the dolphin’s body in for a necropsy at Mote Marine Laboratory, where scientist discovered he had been struck by boats in the past. He had healed scars on his dorsal fin, and even several puncture wounds on his fins an body. During his life, the dolphin had also suffered from multiple broken ribs and vertebrae.
The contents of Beggar’s stomach also showed the problems with human feeding. His stomachs (dolphins have three compartments), the scientists found fishing hooks, fragments of fishing line, squid beaks (fishing bait), and several ulcers. The dolphin was also dehydrated, most likely from his bad diet. Two old stingray barbs were also found embedded in his flesh.
Gretchen Lovewell, the manager of Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program, stated after Beggar the dolphin’s death:
“We can’t say which of these many injuries was the ultimate cause of death for Beggar. But all of our findings indicate that he was in poor health for a long time and that his interactions with humans played a role. Boat strike wounds, fishing hooks and line in his stomach — even the squid beaks we found — all of these things indicate that he was spending more time attempting to get food from humans than foraging on his own.”
After Beggar the dolphin’s death, it is likely that the Marine Mammal Protection Act (which prohibits feeding or petting wild dolphins) will be enforced more strictly, with punishments including a fine up to $100,000, and up to one year in jail for each violation.