A special thanks to Naturalist Kent Morse for his contributions to this article. Kent has been studying dolphins on Marco for 10 years.
The 10,000 Islands Dolphin Survey Team is on the water nearly every day of the year conducting their survey of dolphin activity in the area.
It’s unfortunate that many of the mammals they have catalogued have dorsal fins that do not look normal. Most of these are oddities are the result of encounters with fishing line, leaders or hooks.
In less than three years, two dolphin rescues have taken place right here in our area. Both of these were successful, and both involved fishing line entanglement. It might not seem to be an important matter to most, but the future dolphin population could be at risk if people are not more careful. This was very evident in the second rescue.
Just two months ago, the survey team initiated a successful rescue of an 11-month old dolphin known as Skipper. Not only did she have some monofilament line wrapped around her tail but there was a stainless steel leader there a well. This was a potential life threatening injury.
Notice that I used the word “she” to describe this youngster, and that is very important. During the rescue, it was determined that Skipper was a female. Skipper is not just any female calf. She is the daughter of Halfway, one of the most productive adult females in our area. Halfway is the mom of at least four babies, possibly more. In saving Skipper, those bloodlines could be continued, and Skipper could potentially be responsible in producing many young ones herself. Had she not been rescued, it could have been a long-term negative effect on Marco’s dolphin population.
Here are some tips to help keep dolphins like Skipper, Seymour, Lucky Charm, Finley and others that have been injured a bit more safe.
One: Never feed wild dolphins. Feeding teaches them to depend on humans for food and draws them closer to fishing vessels. It is illegal to feed them per the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Two: Dispose of extra bait properly. Dumping leftover bait in the water may attract dolphins to fishing areas. Freeze your bait, give it to a fishing neighbor or dispose of it when you reach land.
Three: Reel in your line if dolphins appear. Never cast your line towards dolphins. Wait for them to pass to avoid any harm.
Four: Change locations if dolphins show an interest in your bait or catch. Move away to avoid unintentionally hooking one. You could save your fishing gear as well by moving on.
Five: When you catch a fish that you won’t keep, release it quietly away from the dolphins if possible.
Six: Check your gear before going on the water. Inspect your gear for line breaks or snags. First of all, you don’t want to lose that nice catch. Also, even small amounts of line in the water can be harmful if entangled or ingested.
Seven: Use circle hooks or ones that corrode. Circle hooks may reduce injuries to marine life. Corrodible hooks — anything other than stainless steel — eventually dissolve.
Eight: Recycle fishing line. Place all of your broken or used fishing line in a recycling bin. If no bin is available, cut the used or broken line into small pieces and then dispose of it.
Nine: Stash your trash. Littering is illegal on land or water, and it can be harmful to wildlife. Dispose of all trash properly.
Whether you are a recreational fisher or a commercial operation, I think it’s important to remember one thing: The dolphins were here long before us. This is their habitat, and by sharing it with them, we need to be respectful of their way of life. Let’s all do the right things to keep them safe and protected.
Bob is the owner of Stepping Stone Ecotours and a naturalist on board the Dolphin Explorer. He is a member of Florida SEE (Society for Ethical Ecotourism) and Bob loves his wife very much!