Mote Laboratory scientists have confirmed that Beggar the dolphin has died.
The dolphin, known for its poor habits of begging for food thanks to the many people who would illegally feed him around Sarasota waters, was found dead Friday near the Albee Road Bridge, according to Mote.
"Beggar was a local icon and tourist attraction for over two decades, and the results of this necropsy are a reminder of how people's actions are harmful to wild dolphins," said Stacey Horstman, NOAA Fisheries Bottlenose Dolphin Conservation Coordinator in a statement. "There is a common misconception that feeding, touching, and swiming with dolphins is not harmful and that they don't get hit by boats. We are concered about how frequently the public and anglers continue to feed wild dolphins, as Beggar is just one of many wild dolphins in the southeast U.S. that have been fed by people and learned to associate people with food."
Mote has studied this bottlenose dolphin for quite some time to illustrate how humans can hurt wild animals.
The bridge he was found by was a frequent spot for Beggar, according to Mote, as boaters would be swooned by Beggar's attempts and tricks for foods, but what some would see as a simple meal or treat was actually illegal—and costly.
Mote scientists aren't sure what exactly killed Beggar, but it appears it could be a number of factors.
This is what the necropsy—an autopsy for animals—revealed, according to Mote:
- Multiple broken ribs and vertebrae
- Two stingray barbs. One reached the small intestine and one close to the lungs
- Boat wounds on the dorsal fin, which appeared to have healed.
- Healed puncture on right pectoral fin
- Possible boat wound on right side
- Healed puncture wound between blowhole and dorsal fin
- Beggar had multiple broken ribs and vertebrae.
- Three fishing hooks and bits of fishing line in his stomach
- Two squid beaks, which aren't part of a normal dolphin's dining
- Several ulcers in his third stomach
Gretchen Lovewell, manager of Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program, performed the necropsy and said the findings show that Beggar's interactions with humans proved costly, but it's hard determined if there was a definitive cause of death.
“We can’t say which of these many injuries was the ultimate cause of death for Beggar,” Lovewell said in a news release. “But all of our findings indicate that he was in poor health for a long time and that his interactions with humans played a role. Boat strike wounds, fishing hooks and line in his stomach — even the squid beaks we found — all of these things indicate that he was spending more time attempting to get food from humans than foraging on his own.”
Beggar's habits landed him in study after study in scientific papers around the world so scientists could learn more about the effects of feeding wild animals and dolphins.
Feeding dolphins can land someone a fine up to $100,000 plus a year in jail per violation thanks to the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Mote's studies indicate that Beggar patrolled those waters for more than 20 years, and a key study in 2011 by Dr. Katie McHugh of the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program found just how much begging Beggar would do in the 100 hours spent observing him:
- People attempted 169 times to feed him just about anything—beer, shrimp, hot dogs and fruit
- Boaters tried to pet him in 121 instances, which led to nine bites by Beggar
“Compared to the other wild dolphins we study in Sarasota Bay, Beggar was not a healthy dolphin,” McHugh said in a news release. “In addition to his unnatural feeding behavior, Beggar also had very limited social interactions with other dolphins and moved over an extremely small range when compared to most adult male dolphins.”
Dr. Randy Wells, director of the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program emphasizes how much anyone who has an encounter with dolphins or other widlife, just to let them be.
“By feeding Beggar, people reinforced the bad behavior that eventually played a role in his death," Well said in a statement. "Ultimately, it’s human behavior that we need to change. We need to make sure that this pattern doesn’t repeat itself with another dolphin.”