People who feed or swim with wild dolphins are in danger of harmin the dolphins and themselves - and those who feed or harass dolphins risk being fined for violating federal laws protecting dolphins, warns the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Feeding wild dolphins has become an increasing and ongoing problem since the late 1980s. Additionally, people are swimming with wild dolphins, which may harass the animals. Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, it is illegal to feed or harass wild dolphins. Over the past several years, NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service has posted warning signs, distributed educational materials and produced a public service announcement to help educate the public and commercial operators about the harmful consequences of interactions with dolphins.

"We need to impress upon people that interactions with wild dolphins are harmful to the animals and can also be harmful to humans. People need to respect these animals in their natural habitat and let them stay wild," said Dave McKinney, chief of enforcement.

The fisheries service has established guidelines for approaching dolphins in the United States. These guidelines recommend that boaters stay at least 50 yards from dolphins. "If a dolphin approaches you, we ask that you safely and slowly move away and not attempt an interaction," Nancy Foster, deputy director of the fisheries service said, adding that feeding marine mammals alters their natural behavior. Instead of hunting for live fish, dolphins become accustomed to begging for food handouts from boaters. When the food fed to dolphins is non-natural or contaminated, it can pose a serious health risk and even death to the animals.

Dolphins are routinely seen near the mouth of the Bay and in portions of the tributaries.