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Mooch the begging dolphin attracts boaters

5:49 PM, May 30, 2005   |    comments
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Off Casey Key, Florida - He's probably the most popular resident off Casey Key.

The 25 year old bottlenose dolphin is known to some as "Beggar" and to others as "Mooch" or "Moochie." He's been living in these waters since about 1980, according to local marine scientists.

But in the past 15 years, Mooch is often seen swimming up to boaters, usually it's boaters that call out to him by banging on the side of their vessels.

Jeri Cocchi says she usually sees the dolphin as she takes her boat up the intercoastal, he's become part of the community.

Jeri Cocchi, Sarasota Boater: "He's our pet, everybody's pet. He's gorgeous, he goes from boat to boat sticks his nose up to say hello..he's beautiful."

But the friendly dolphin comes begging for food, that's why he's named Beggar or Mooch. People feed him sometimes fish and at other times it's junk food. But many times wild dolphins bite the hand that feeds them.

Jeri Cocchi, Sarasota Boater: "I used to work at the marina and guys would come in and have to go to the hospital for stitches."

Randy Wells, Mote Marine Laboratory: "A dolphin has 100 razor sharp teeth. Their jaws aren't strong but their teeth are sharp. If they clamp down on you, they can cause lacerations. Depending on the qualities of the water where it happens it can lead to infection."

Randy Wells is a pioneer in mammal research and an authority on marine mammals in Florida. The Mote Marine Laboratory scientist says dolphins who are fed by people run the risk of getting sick.

Randy Wells, Mote Marine Laboratory: "It's getting things that's not an appropriate part of their diet. When it gets fish that's not fresh could make him sick."

Feeding dolphins is illegal under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and fines can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Wells also warns dolphins fed by boaters risk getting struck by boat propellers, it disrupts their natural behavior and may make dolphins dependant on people for food.

Randy Wells, Mote Marine Laboratory: "It shouldn't be a situation where the animal pays the price for human interaction."

Mooch is estimated to be about 25 years old. Wells says Mooch is one of four generations of dolphins living in Sarasota waters, people should respect them and their home.

Isabel Mascarenas, Tampa Bay's 10

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