JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Spotting a dolphin on the St. Johns River is a regular occurrence in Jacksonville, but the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is warning boaters and voyeurs of the dolphins that they can look at the dolphins, but not touch or feed them.
Allen Rickey and his friend were fishing under the Dames Point Bridge four years ago, when they spotted a dolphin doing tricks.
"We didn't catch any fish that day, and it was still an awesome day on the water," Rickey recalled. "He (the dolphin) finally got around to us and (we) threw a little bait in its mouth, and it was kinda fun. We'd never been that close to a dolphin before, I'm a Florida native and never seen a dolphin that close or proactive."
Rickey said the dolphin was begging for food.
"The dolphin had been trained at some point. It was literally splashing us with its tail if we didn't feed it. It was crazy. That's how it got people's attention at the other boats. It was going up and smacking its tail and then turning around and standing up like you might see at SeaWorld," said Rickey.
Rickey's friend recently found a picture from the day and posted it on a social media site. The FWC got wind of the picture, tracked Rickey down at his work last week and gave him a $250 ticket. The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 prohibits feeding or harassing wild marine mammals.
"If you feed a wild dolphin, it will change the behavior of the dolphin to become a begging dolphin, because it's going to find, hey it's easier for me to go to a person and beg for food than hunt for my food, which will also impact a female, for example, who should be teaching her offspring or calf how to feed and hunt," said FWC's Nadia Gordon.
Dolphins have also been known to bite people who get too close. Rickey said he had no idea that feeding a dolphin was illegal or about the fine attached to the act.
"I definitely didn't have any ill intentions when I was doing that," said Rickey.