Photo by Patricia Schaefer

Patricia Schaefer is a Seabrook resident who has spent the last seven years photographing dolphins strand feeding in the Kiawah River.   She has published several books on the subject, participated in National Geographic’s filming of the Kiawah dolphins and provided photos for interpretive signs on both Seabrook and Kiawah.   Over the last summer she has observed a significant increase in dolphin viewing traffic and misbehavior by the sightseers.   Here is her recent “letter to the editor” describing the problems:


Most recently I have observed a great increase in the numbers of folks wanting to see the phenomenon of strand feeding. In itself this is not a problem. But what has occurred is large numbers of people trying to swim with the dolphin, or getting in the water where they usually strand feed. This can alter the dolphins’ behavior because they cannot strand feed with people in the water and on the banks where they had intended to land. The dolphin can weigh up to 1000 pounds so it would be extremely dangerous if they were to land on a person. I heard from a reliable source about a group of people on Seabrook who actually ran up to the shore where the dolphin had chased fish and the humans collected the fish and put them in their buckets. I do not know what their intention was, but such conduct invades the dolphins’ environment, is potentially harmful to the dolphin, and is illegal.     The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) prohibits harassment, which includes any act that disrupts their behavioral patterns including migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding and sheltering. The act further prohibits feeding or attempt to feed a marine mammal in the wild. The maximum fine for violating of the MMPA is $20,000 and one year in jail.


So I ask you to tell all of you family, neighbors, friends, renters and guests that it is fine to observe this magnificent behavior but PLEASE stay out of the water, be quiet, stay back and leave your dogs at home so they don’t harass the dolphin.   We must protect these mammals or they will find somewhere else to feed. Remember they are hunters, not beggars.   They can be injured if they swim too close to boats or fishing hooks. Feeding wild dolphins disrupts their social groups and threatens their ability to survive in the wild. People have reported being bitten by dolphin. Dolphins are not water toys or pets but wild animals that must be protected. If they lose their wariness by being too close to human interaction they become targets for vandalism and shark attacks.