A WARNING has been issued over a dangerous dolphin that has separated swimming children from their parents off the coast.
It has also isolated pets from their owners in the water, prompting wildlife experts to urge the public to avoid the dolphin at all costs.
Biologists report that aggressive behavior by the dolphin has increased as of late because of repeated interaction with humans.
"The situation for a habituated dolphin off North Padre Island, Texas is dire, threatening both human safety and the animal’s life," the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration wrote in a Thursday news release.
"For more than a year, biologists, law enforcement, and residents of the area have discouraged people from feeding, swimming, or interacting with the dolphin.
"While some have heeded the warnings, others continue to seek out the animal."
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The NOAA said as a result of interaction with humans, "the dolphin has become so used to humans that it now seeks out people, boats, and any form of interaction."
It's important for people to leave the dolphin alone if it does approach them, NOAA said. While it may seem friendly, biologists warn that it is a wild animal with unpredictable behavior.
If people in the area do encounter the dolphin, NOAA has released guidelines on how the situation should be handled.
For people who are out on the water in a boat, it's likely that a dolphin will approach the boat.
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If that does happen, experts say to avoid stopping and slowly move away from the animal, while maintaining the boat's course and speed.
People should also keep their hands and feet inside the boat at all times and refrain from petting the animal. Eventually the dolphin will leave the area.
However, if a dolphin approaches a person while they are swimming, the guidelines change. It's recommended to immediately evacuate the area to avoid any potential interaction.
Biologists have noted that the dolphin in North Padre Island is showing behaviors similar to other lone, sociable dolphins worldwide.
NOAA laid out four stages that experts have documented through research:
- The dolphin shows up in areas populated by people but don't approach them.
- The dolphin begins to follow boats and people and people begin to interact with them by feeding, swimming and playing with the animal.
- The dolphin loses its natural wariness to people and boats and begins to allow more social interactions with people.
- Through media attention, the dolphin becomes a tourist attraction for people who often inappropriately interact with them. Dominant and aggressive behavior will begin to surface. The North Padre Island dolphin is in stage four.
In preparation for Memorial Day weekend, local authorities willincrease patrols around the area.
"Any interaction with the dolphin that may injure or change its behaviors is harassment and illegal under the Marine Mammal Protection Act," NOAA warned.
The agency added that feeding or attempting to feed wild dolphins is also illegal.
Any violations, both civilly and criminally, could be punishable by up to $100,000 in fines and one year in jail, per violation.
Experts are also considering other methods of protecting the dolphin.
Dolphins are one of the most intelligent animals on Earth, with many studies suggesting that they are second only to humans on the brain front.
However, they are also known to be incredibly violent, especially in captivity, and have been known to maul, maim, and even kill humans.
Horrifying footage from April showed the moment that an angry dolphin attacked its trainer during a show.
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In 2019, Lexi Yeo was savaged by two dolphins that dragged her under the water in a shocking incident at a center in Cancun, Mexico.
And in 1994, a male dolphin called Tiao, which was known to be friendly toward women swimmers, attacked two men in the sea off Sao Paulo, Brazi, after apparently seeing them as romantic competitors.
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