Over time, we’ve learned much about dolphin lives and how they spend their time in the wild. We’ve also learned much about how their lives end, both from natural causes and from anthropogenic factors — that is, factors that are caused by human activities.
Entanglement in discarded fishing gear is one of the leading causes of anthropogenic dolphin deaths and injuries in the wild dolphin population that we study, and over the course of our program, we’ve rescued dozens of dolphins that have become entangled in fishing gear. (Other human-related causes of death and injury include boat/propeller strikes, illegally feeding wild dolphins, and environmental contaminants.)
We’ve seen three types of interactions between anglers and dolphins increase:
- Scavenging: Dolphins take fish or bait discarded by anglers in boats or on piers. Instead of eating wild-caught prey, dolphins develop the bad habit of approaching humans.
- Depredation: Dolphins remove caught-fish from fishing lines. This puts the dolphin too close to the hook(s) that caught the fish and can lead to the dolphins getting hooked or injured themselves.
- Entangling: Dolphins can become entangled in discarded fishing line, restricting their movements, ability or fish or even escape predators. Entanglements can lead to cuts, skin sores, infection, and even death.
The good news is that you can easily help prevent dolphin injuries and deaths!
All you have to do is follow a few simple tips:
- Never feed wild dolphins or discard bait when dolphins are nearby.
- Reel in your fishing line if dolphins appear.
- Change locations if dolphins show interest in bait or catch.
- Release catch quietly away from dolphins when and where it is possible to do so without violating any state or federal fishing regulations.
- Check gear and terminal tackle to make sure it won’t break off easily and, if your line does break, be sure to collect anything left behind in mangroves or on docks.
- Use circle and corrodible hooks and avoid braided fishing line.
- Stay at least 50 yards away.
- Stash your trash in a lidded container on your boat until you can get to shore and dispose of it safely in a place where it will not blow back into the water. (An old tennis-ball can with a lid is perfect for stashing used line until you return to shore.)