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Florida's Famed 'Beggar' The Dolphin Found Dead; 'A Local Icon And Tourist Attraction For Over Two Decades'
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SARASOTA, Florida -- One of Sarasota's most well known and ill-fed dolphins was found dead near the Albee Road Bridge in Sarasota on Friday, 9-21-12. Known as "Beggar," the bottlenose dolphin was one of the most studied wild dolphins in the world and an example of how human behavior can sometimes hurt wild animals.

Beggar frequented the Albee Road Bridge area of the Intracoastal Waterway, often approaching and being approached by boaters who fed and attempted to pet him. He was the subject of numerous scientific papers and public education campaigns designed to help humans learn that feeding and petting wild dolphins is bad for the animals. It is also illegal under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Violations can be prosecuted in civil or criminal court and are punishable by up to $100,000 in fines and up to one year in jail per violation. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently prosecuted three such cases in Florida.

By feeding Beggar, people changed his behavior and put him at an increased risk from boat strikes. It also appeared that other dolphins learned similar "begging" behavior by watching him interact with humans.

The dolphin was found floating in the water late Friday afternoon near Mile Marker 15 of the Intracoastal Waterway, just north of the Albee Road Bridge. The body was recovered by Sarasota County Marine Patrol, which towed the dolphin to a boat ramp so Mote's Stranding Investigations Program could pick it up. A member of the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, which has studied the dolphins of Sarasota Bay for 42 years, identified the animal as Beggar.

Gretchen Lovewell, manager of Mote's Stranding Investigations Program, performed a necropsy, or animal autopsy, on Beggar Friday evening. The animal's body was in a state of moderate decomposition and no definitive cause of death could be pinpointed. However, there were numerous findings indicating that his interactions with humans played an overall role in Beggar's ill health.

  • Externally, there were healed boat wounds on the dorsal fin, a healed puncture wound on the right pectoral fin, a possible boat wound on the right side of the body, below the dorsal fin and a healing puncture wound between the blowhole and the dorsal fin.
  • Beggar had multiple broken ribs and vertebrae.
  • While he did not have much food in his stomachs, there were three fishing hooks and small bits of line in the first stomach, two squid beaks (not a normal prey item for resident Sarasota Bay dolphins) and several ulcers of varying severity in the third stomach.
  • He was dehydrated — possibly because he was not eating a normal dolphin diet.

In addition to these wounds, Lovewell also found internal injuries from two stingray barbs. One barb had migrated through the ribs and embedded near the small intestine with necrotic tissue surrounding the barb. The second barb was found near the right shoulder blade and was very close to puncturing the thoracic cavity (near the lungs).

"We can't say which of these many injuries was the ultimate cause of death for Beggar," Lovewell said. "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 had been frequenting the area where he was found dead for more than 20 years. From March to June 2011, Dr. Katie McHugh of the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, a partnership between Mote and the Chicago Zoological Society, spent 100 hours observing his behavior and that of the boaters who encountered him. She documented:

  • 3,600 interactions between Beggar and humans — up to 70 per hour;
  • 169 attempts to feed him 520 different food items — everything from shrimp and squid to beer, hot dogs and fruit;
  • 121 attempts to touch him — resulting in nine bites to the humans doing the petting.

"Compared to the other wild dolphins we study in Sarasota Bay, Beggar was not a healthy dolphin," McHugh said. "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."

During McHugh's study, she also looked at what humans and Beggar did when NOAA law enforcement officers were present. When officers were on the water, boaters were much less likely to approach Beggar and Beggar was much more likely to forage for food when humans stopped giving him handouts.

Beggar's death offers a stark reminder of why feeding wild dolphins is bad, said Dr. Randy Wells, director of the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program. "By feeding Beggar, people reinforced the bad behavior that eventually played a role in his death. 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."

Stacey Horstman, NOAA Fisheries Bottlenose Dolphin Conservation Coordinator, appealed to the public for help on the issue. "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," she said. "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. Responsibly viewing wild dolphins is crucial to their survival and we are asking the public for help so dolphin populations stay healthy and wild for generations to come."

Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of UnderwaterTimes.com, its staff or its advertisers.

Reader Comments

40 people have commented so far. cloud add your comment

"Begger" was a local attraction for over 2 decades. So for over 20yrs. Average life exspectancy of dolphins in the sarasota region is between 20 and 25 years. He seems to have lived a full life, this artical makes it seem like he died because of something people did to him. He lived likley beyond his pears life exspectancy.
   comment# 1   - Danny · Corpus Christi, Texas · Sep 23, 2012 @ 10:49pm

This is so sad. Rest in peace poor Beggar! I really hope people will learn from these kinds of stories and will stop feeding these animals which will harm them in the long run! They aren't helping them by feeding them. Some people are harming them and disrupting their way of life.
   comment# 2   - Indie Guru · Reseda, CA, U.S.A. · Sep 24, 2012 @ 12:46am

Just enjoy their beauty, and let nature take care of her own.
   comment# 3   - TOM Painter · Waynesboro Virginia · Sep 24, 2012 @ 1:38am

I understand that feeling wildlife is not good, but in this situation possibly "Beggar" was interacting and begging for food BECAUSE of his multiple injuries and possibly he's been injured/sick for many years. If it's possible, maybe Dolphin Consv. can catch the "friendlier" dolphins to check their health and see if they are interacting with humans because something is wrong with them, instead of watching them do unnatural behavior. Take the time to investigate "why" a dolphin is so friendly instead of letting it die a slow painful death....
   comment# 4   - jennifer · Tampa, USA · Sep 24, 2012 @ 1:48am

I'd bet the sting ray barbs did more harm to him than the human interaction did. Remember Steve Irwin, the croc hunter, RIP.
   comment# 5   - Randy Scott · Agency, USA · Sep 24, 2012 @ 4:13am

How would you like another species coming up and touching you?
   comment# 6   - David Leach · Chiefland Fl. · Sep 24, 2012 @ 4:53am

With the injuries that they found out, probably Beggar has been suffering all these injuries/illnesses for a long time. So, I agree with what had Jennifer told, that somebody needs to check about his/her health, treat and then release it to the wild and observe again it it is acting the same way.
   comment# 7   - Bong Soriano · Houston, TX · Sep 24, 2012 @ 7:31am

he died happy, he chose to be fed and liked people he was privileged
   comment# 8   - leo · farmville, VA · Sep 24, 2012 @ 7:54am

These is a reason why there is up to $100,000 fines and up to one year in jail per violation of people feeding these "Wild Creatures". And why it is necessary that National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently prosecuted three such cases in Florida. Would you feed a stray dog? Some will, many won't, because then it become your liability, and could return to your and depend on you to take care of it. Same thing with these wild porpoises. I pay a lot of money for fishing license (out of state) for me and my family of 4 ($250 for 2 weeks). This allows me to fish and catch bait in a net. These creatures will come up and claim fish off my hook, and tear up my expensive nets ($200+ per net) to retrieve my bait. I have done this for decades and true wild animals don't do this. These particular animals have become dependent on humans, and there is no way to Slap them on the nose with a newspaper to discourage this behavior. What is really bad is when one of these dependent dolphins get attacked and eaten by Shark. Just ask or google search June 2009 Dolphin release and continued for more details on this very cruel death.
   comment# 9   - michael · Riverview, Florida · Sep 24, 2012 @ 9:06am

The reason people think it's OK to pet and interact with dolphins is simple - the dolphin shows at zoos and attractions around the world. But that's alright because people make money off of that. The blame is misplaced.
   comment# 10   - Bob · Tinley Park, IL · Sep 24, 2012 @ 9:23am

he lived for over 20 years so clearly he was smart enough to interact with people and survive to a ripe old age. who can be judge of the quality of this dolphins life who provided so much joy to so many? as for the bites, there were very few and no mention of doctor treatments, so i would assume the " petters " were being less than gentle and were warned with a nip.
   comment# 11   - joe shmoe · freland, montago · Sep 24, 2012 @ 11:12am

I have family in Sarasota and was lucky enough to see Beggar multiple times on boat rides on the Intracoastal. This is very sad for the community, he was a regular around the area. I never saw anyone try to feed him because the locals know how bad it is for the dolphins, it's mainly tourists who think it's 'adorable' and don't know the risks. There are signs posted that tell people not to touch or feed the dolphins but many times people just don't care.
   comment# 12   - GuessWhoItsYou · Chicago, IL · Sep 24, 2012 @ 11:48am

The average lifespan of these dolphins is 20 years, this is the actual findings of the Sarasota Dolphin Research Project. So the truth is Begger lived a full life, and the public feedings and interaction have not shortened its life at all. The evidence actually looks like it might have kept Begger alive in its injured malnurished state. This should be a reason to re-evaluate the current system and rethink that humans interaction is not all bad, it can help wild animals stay living in the wild, and people should not always be punished for interacting, to save a dolphins life. Caged dolphins forced to do public stunts is the real crime here.
   comment# 13   - Stewart Green · Sarasota · Sep 24, 2012 @ 1:30pm

That is too funny to have such stiff fines for feeding a dolphin or any other wild life. Food is currency and how friends are made in all species including our own. I wonder how many fines they give the US navy for causing the beaching of whales and dolphins. The sonar that they are using is causing the death of whole pods. GO FIGURE...
   comment# 14   - Jamie · Houston, TX · Sep 24, 2012 @ 2:04pm

As a Vet. Sailor I am aware of Dolphins and how wonderful they are and would never try to feed one as the ocean has plenty of natural food for them. I hope people will listen to what is being told to them.
   comment# 15   - Gene Taylor · St. Joseph, Berrien · Sep 24, 2012 @ 2:09pm

I feed him about 15 years ago. I was told he was a performing dolphin that was let back into the wild. Looks like he lived about as long as he was supposed to. Certainly, he was free to live where and how he wanted. For the dolphin population in Sarasota Bay, life expectancy is about 25 years.
   comment# 16   - David · Fort Worth, TX · Sep 24, 2012 @ 2:10pm

What a crying shame that this lovely creature died in this way. I know people mean well but THINK before you throw food for any sea traveler. THINK of what they do eat and only feed them that if you happen to have it on board! Either that or learn what they can eat and not get sick from. Come on folks...all the information you need is right in front of you every day of your life. Your computer isn't there just to play games on...you have the world at your fingertips!
   comment# 17   - Christiane Bagnato · Middletown, New York · Sep 24, 2012 @ 3:10pm

glad to see articles like this on the internet-education is the first step to stopping people from further damaging the dolphin population --they are not pets----
   comment# 23   - diane o'connor · usa · Sep 24, 2012 @ 3:26pm

Well, I think he lived a long wonderful life in the company of humans. It was his choice, and he seemed pretty smart. If he did not go to the depths of the oceans, it was his choice. He chose to live near humans and again he lived a long wonderful life, his choice. If we believe in the freedom of choice, he lived it, his own way.
   comment# 23   - Noemi Salas · Alice, Texas,USA · Sep 24, 2012 @ 3:30pm

We were recently in Sarasota and rented a boat for a few days. Had the pleasure of meeting the dolphin we now know as "Begger". He was a beautiful animal and, as crazy as it sounds, having him come to our boat side and say hello, was one of the highlights of our trip. It was clear to us not to feed him, warning signs were abundant, but almost every other boat that he went to shot pop corn, bread or whatever else was in their lunch basic. Thought at the time it was mean, wrong and careless. But some simply don't care. And strangely there was no enforcement or fines or patrols to be found. Hey, he had a good life, of sorts, we enjoyed meeting him, and are sorry for his demise. We support the above article, and express our sympathies to the locals who won't see the likes of Begger ever again.
   comment# 23   - Peter · Syracuse USA · Sep 24, 2012 @ 3:58pm

If the dolphins apparently aren't supposed to be in the Bay, than why did the biologists 'study' them for an extensive amount of time instead of trying to relocate them? And why does it take 20 years to come to a conclusion of something. If the witnessed people feeding and petting the dolphins, why didnt they report it? Hmmmm....
   comment# 23   - imhere2 · tucson AZ · Sep 24, 2012 @ 4:55pm

Let it be
   comment# 23   - Erinfay · USA · Sep 24, 2012 @ 5:26pm

Dolphin's are a blast,and I'm sorry to here Beggar has passed.I used to surf with them in southern calif..We would be sitting in the water and have whole pod's just cruise thru everybody surfing,and look at us.One day paddling back out I saw one in a wave next to my friend,and it pushed him off it was funny as hell.There was a Pro surf contest last week in calif,and 2 dolphins rode a wave with a contestant,it was a beautiful thing.
   comment# 23   - RoninBob · Colorado Springs,U.S.A. · Sep 24, 2012 @ 6:22pm

It is taught that humans and dolphins normally interact with each other in friendly ways. If food is available, great! But I believe that humans shouldn't consider dolphins to be some sort of problem when feeding is a concern - especially in Florida. The danger is that humans tend to associate animal behavior with human behavior. Dolphins are dolphins, and implying that dolphins need human interaction as much as some humans need dolphin help on occassion isn't anything unexpected or bad. We are, Biblically speaking, stewards of all the Earth. If humans can't provide for themselves, why expect dolphins to not suffer? If humans got their collective act together and stopped sinning so much, the dolphin situation could improve with more passive extradevelopmental feeding ideas - like what people do for birds and dogs and cats:)
   comment# 24   - John · California · Sep 24, 2012 @ 7:07pm

In answer to comment #8 from "leo in Farmville, VA": I beg to differ. Human beings have no way of knowing if Beggar died happily or not. You are applying human emotions to gloss over the complicated issues involved when humans provide easy feeding to otherwise undomesticated wildlife. "Beggar" most assuredly did not choose to be fed. Humans made that decision for him. We tend to conveniently forget that our lure of a food source is how we routinely trick, capture and ultimately kill Earth's creatures, solely for selfish human conssumption. I will die confident in my belief that is has been my most profound honor to have known the creatures of this earth -- not that it was their privilege to know me.
   comment# 25   - krashdummie · maryland, USA · Sep 24, 2012 @ 7:57pm

It is illegal to feed any wildlife for a good reason. Here are some of the reasons you shouldn't feed wildlife: 1. Providing an artificial food source causes adults to produce large families which the2babyracs2.jpg (18079 bytes) natural food supply can't support. 2. It is illegal to feed wildlife. 3. Wild animals have specialized diets and can die from the wrong foods. 4. Feeding causes wildlife to lose their natural fear of humans. 5. You always risk injury when you do not keep a respectful distance from wild animals who may misinterpret your actions. 6. Providing food in residential areas often leads to property damage and unwelcome wild “house guests.” 7. Feeding changes behavior patterns, sometimes with catastrophic results. 8. Feeding causes injuries and harmful interactions between wildlife species. I have seen people feeding mule deer in a national forest in California potato chips! The deer have lost the fear of humans to the point of being hand fed any garbage the humans wanted to feed them. Potato chips aren't even good food for humans, much less a deer. It is not cute to feed wildlife so you can get your photo taken with the animal. People who do it are unthinking, uncaring, and choose to defy the laws against feeding wildlife. Try feeding the alligators in Florida and get caught doing it. You can face up to $500 in fines and jail time, and I personally hope the judge "throws the book at you."
   comment# 26   - Marie · Coker Creek, TN USA · Sep 24, 2012 @ 11:02pm

If it was illegal, why weren't people fined and imprisoned? There were documented cases listed above, so someone was watching what was going on.
   comment# 27   - Sally J · OKC, USA · Sep 25, 2012 @ 5:53am

Message to Hollywood. STOP MAKING FUZZY MOVIES W/ANY KIND OF WILDLIFE> it sends the wrong message to people that are watching the movie. Wild animals are just that, WILD, their not cuit, cuddley, or anything else. Their wild peoriod.
   comment# 28   - Marc · Benton City, Wa. · Sep 25, 2012 @ 8:54am

very sad. i wonder did he die in pain was he swimming in pain from hunger and all those things in his stomach sounds like he died lonely and his only friendships were of chance meetings with humans..living a happy 20 years or living to be 20 = years old and starving and lonely are something else...if such a stdy was done on him the people studying new this case was not in the best interest of the dolphin(begger) something should have been done long ago to try to get him to adapt to more dolphin like behavior..they saw he was only eating human food and lord knows it was not good for him..it saddens me that people watch things happen but do nothing to change the situation...quality of life verses quantity of life so they say i would should quality..im sure this dolphin died hungry and alone and that is very sad
   comment# 29   - jacklyn lauren · United States · Sep 25, 2012 @ 10:37am

Either way it's a sad story. The animal had multiple broken ribs and vertebrae, puncture wounds, and lacerations. The story mentions at least instance of a person attempting to feed the animal beer. Who does that kind of thing, honestly? If this had been a hungry person being treated like this, people would have been all over it. Poor animal was mistreated as a novelty, not a living creature with an itelligent mind. Once again, humans ruining something special.
   comment# 30   - Mr Lozano · Orange County, Ca · Sep 26, 2012 @ 11:57am

They always look happy,but have no way to show pain. How sad
   comment# 31   - noel gagliardi · new haven ct · Sep 26, 2012 @ 1:27pm

Growing up I went to Sea World where I got to pet a bottle nosed dolphin and watched "flipper" on t.v. I think it would have been a pleasure to meet Beggar but I would have nicknamed him Slick lol
   comment# 32   - michellebomar · dallas · Sep 26, 2012 @ 2:18pm

Growing up I went to Sea World where I got to pet a bottle nosed dolphin and watched "flipper" on t.v. I think it would have been a pleasure to meet Beggar but I would have nicknamed him Slick lol
   comment# 33   - michellebomar · dallas texas · Sep 26, 2012 @ 2:23pm

You can't blame a poor animal when they are surrounded by humans when they adapt to finding food sources. This is what they do. Nature rocks! I stepped in to help this little fawn. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQ2m-LQkKEM
   comment# 34   - rob · Charlotte, NC · Sep 26, 2012 @ 7:31pm

It is a known fact, Dolphin's diet consists of shrimp, and small fish, It seems that humans that initially were in close contact with the dolphin (Beggar)should have been more aware of these facts, if they weren't able to afford to feed (Beggar) his natural seafood diet, well they should have just observed him !! and there should be a visible sign for all to READ- DO NOT FEED THE DOLPHINS or THROW SCRAP FOOD IN TO THE WATER or YOU WILL BE FINED $10,000.00 - $50,000.00 (PLUS INCARCERATED) INCARCERATED
   comment# 35   - Debra DeLeon · United States · Sep 26, 2012 @ 8:13pm

no matter how cute any wild life is to pet them is putting your life in danger as well of wildlife as wildlie can become what gamewardens calling nousce aminale and sometine these have tobe recolated in the winter it means death for bears who go to a place they dont know raccons who people feed become animals who get caught and place in a nature place and they have no ideal how to cacht their food i have never heard of wiid animals comming out on top when people interfear with them in the wild please leave them alone
   comment# 36   - robertasteen · enwell new york · Sep 26, 2012 @ 8:54pm

This really hurts to think that the people whom studied could hae checked on him once a year pulled him to the mote marina for a week like a vet to exray or check dehydrated issues.they could have predicted thia knowing ahead of time his outcome. They knew he needed more and just watched.
   comment# 37   - shelly · sarasota · Sep 27, 2012 @ 8:35pm

Ironic that the other side of the world see them as chicken basically, but here its news when one dies....
   comment# 38   - Danny · Fort Worth, Texas · Sep 29, 2012 @ 2:40am

Despite the interpretations made by the self-appointed scientific experts, their own autopsy report makes it quite clear that there were no specific illnesses or injuries causes by the people who fed the dolphin. As Beggar lived a full life span despite the problems he faced with pollution, discarded fishing hooks, over-fishing of the bay and the irresponsible high speed boat driving which probably got him in the end, there seems no case to answer against the people who merely fed him inappropriate food. I'm curious as to why the scientists have pushed the authorities into prosecuting so vigorously in these rare cases when dolphins for whatever reason seek out human company or support. Can it be that they want the exclusive rights to interact with the dolphins themselves - so they can legally chase and net the dolphins, manhandle them on board, weigh them, tag them, take blood etc, all of happens regularly in Sarasota Bay and which is far more intrusive than feeding a hungry animal - but which seems to be OK so long as we call it 'science'??!! And the people braying for fines and punishments for the offenders who 'encourage begging' - I wonder if these are the same people who walk past the homeless beggars on our streets muttering that they should 'go out and get a job'??
   comment# 39   - Graham · Stroud, England · Oct 2, 2012 @ 7:41am

As Marie from TN said...providing an artificial food source causes adults to produce large families....just look at Americas welfare system... I'd rather feed a dolphin than the human beggars...
   comment# 40   - Denise · Chicago, USA · Oct 7, 2012 @ 8:44am
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