||Over the last few decades, many tourists have become increasingly interested in close
interaction with wild animals: referred to as human-wild animal interaction (HWAI)
within this paper. The array of HWAI activities includes: very close approach, feeding,
touching, and swimming in the company of wild animals. The focus of my Master’s Project
is on HWAI tourism involving dolphins and manatees in the United States. As “swim
with” tourism grows in popularity, a thorough examination of HWAI tourism is necessary
to assess the potential negative impacts of such activities on the target species.
This paper is an examination of why interaction with wild dolphins and manatees has
become so popular, what effects the interactions could have on the target species,
and what policy alternatives could best protect the species.
A variety of factors can motivate people to seek out and value interaction with wild
animals, including certain physical and behavioral characteristics, entertainment
and film, and species status. Legislation protects dolphins and manatees against
harassment, but few studies have examined the direct effects of HWAI on the target
species. It is likely that HWAI results in various sub-lethal effects, such as modifications
to activity and energy budgets, but we have little direct information regarding the
consequences of such behavioral changes. This makes management of the HWAI tourism
industry difficult, because enforcing agencies must first demonstrate how a particular
action harms a species in order to prosecute.
I recommend a suite of policy alternatives that could help to protect target species
based on existing knowledge, including increased educational efforts and changes to
the current permitting process and regulatory regime. I conclude by identifying areas
where more monitoring and research are necessary.