WEST ASHLEY, S.C. (WCBD) – A video posted on social media of a dolphin begging for food has left a local non-profit alarmed. While some may think the mammal is being playful, the organization warns feeding them could cost you.

“Kind of similar if you thought of a begging dog … looking up at you with their mouth open looking for a treat, said Lauren Rust who is the executive director of Lowcountry Marine Mammal Network.

Their behavior when begging for food is similar to man’s best friend. When the charm wears off Rust explains, “They could bite you; they could get, you know, frustrated if they’re not getting the treats.”

Charleston is home to about 300 native bottlenose dolphins which are protected under federal law by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 which makes it illegal to harass, hunt, capture, or kill any marine mammal.

“Every time we’re on the water, we’re in their environment with these marine mammals and so they’re trying to navigate around, you know boaters and kayakers and noise,” said Rust.

You may be surprised to find out that fines for feeding or harassing these mammals can reach up to $100,000.

“People tend to feed them food that is not part of their natural diet, so they can get sick, which could cause them to die and then begging dolphins will train their young dolphins to beg and so then they’re passing on this negative behavior,” said Rust.

According to federal guidelines, boaters must remain at least 50 yards from dolphins which is roughly the length of three semitrucks or half a football field.

“We just want them to be wild, to be able to hunt on their own, and for us to view them from a distance,” said Rust.

Tips from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources for being dolphin-friendly in South Carolina:

  • Use caution when navigating in shallow waters and tidal creeks.
  • Always heed “no wake” zones, operating boats at the lowest possible speed while maintaining steerage.
  • Never feed dolphins. This teaches animals to approach boats and docks, putting them at greater risk of a boat strike, and it is illegal. Do not dispose of fish carcasses when dolphins are nearby.
  • Never pursue, harass or interact with dolphins. It is dangerous for the animals and illegal.
  • Report any wildlife violations to SCDNR’s 24/7 hotline: 1-800-922-5431.