Avoid the Smiling Dolphin

Smiling SeaWorld Dolphin,Courtesy of Blaine Hansel.

Think that smiling dolphin is happy to see you? Think again. If you’re looking at brochures for Florida’s hundreds of dolphin tours, you and the dolphin may be better off if don’t fall for the smiley dolphin tour ads. That familiar pose is really a dolphin begging for food–something wild dolphins shouldn’t do, says Jessica R. Powell, biologist from the National Marine Fisheries Service.

“It’s a very unnatural behavior,” says Powell. “You never see a wild dolphin doing this unless it’s fed or conditioned to people. It’s actually an indication of a number of problems” with how people are treating that dolphin.That’s why the Fisheries Service voluntary guidelines for tours, Dolphin Smart, bans the begging dolphin grin pictures in ads–along with anything else that gives you the idea you’re going to be hanging out with some wild dolphins that will be thrilled to make your acquaintance. The program’s main thrust is about not disturbing the dolphins. Operators go through training, learning keep respectful 50 yards from dolphins, learn signs that they’re getting annoyed with you (they may “chuff”–a kind of angry dolphin huff–for example) and put their engines in neutral when a dolphin approaches. Plus, they have to teach the public about dolphins.

But teaching tourists dolphin etiquitte is a hard in market where hundreds of tours compete for tourists. Powell recently counted 107 outfits doing tours just on the west coast of Florida from Tampa south. For 66, dolphins are their primary

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What is Collaborative Whale-Watching and Wildlife Viewing?

Photo of man hugging gray whale in San Ignacio Bay courtesy of Marc Uhlig of Jupiter Labs. Biologist Toni Frohoff has a new way see whales and other wildlife: collaborative watching. That’s right: she wants us to work with whales so we all get something out of the experience. Instead of just being stalkers, we’d interact on mutually agreeable terms. What Frohoff, research director at TerraMar Research and the Trans-Species Institute of Learning, is proposing is an overhaul of eco-tourism standards. She wants the whales (and other animals) to be in on it, to collaborate with the humans that want to watch them.Sound impossible? Well, she does it all the time with gray whales in Baja California. As a behavioral biologist she made an appearance in the much-discussed New York Times Magazine story Watching Whales Watching Us. The gray whales migrate up and down the west coast, seemingly indifferent to humans, but once they reach their nursery harbors off Baja, they suddenly become curious about people. That’s even more remarkable since people once slaughtered whales here–so much so the species was almost wiped out. But now they’ve realized people–or at least the people in these harbors–aren’t throwing harpoons, they are offering hugs.

Photo of whale near row boat courtesy of FarFlungPhotos and Tarnya Hall.What do the whales get out of it? For reasons no one can explain, they seem really into it, coming up to boats curiously and seeking out interaction, not just tolerating it.

What the whales can

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