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E-mail Florida Keys Wild Dolphin Alliance

Phone: FKWDA

Mission Statement

The Florida Keys Wild Dolphin Alliance was formed
to protect wild dolphins and their habitat.


Our mission is to provide opportunities for people to experience wild dolphins in their natural habitat. We are committed to ecology-based, ecology-based, education-oriented tourism and nature interpretation, conducted in an informed and responsible manner. The FKWDA exists also to encourage and ensure compliance with the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) both within and outside the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. FKWDA operators work to protect wild dolphins and preserve their habitats, so that people and wildlife can continue to enjoy the Keys into the future.

     Policy and Practice   2016

       It is the strict policy of the FKWDA and its member operators to protect the dolphins of the lower Keys and the habitat upon which we each depend. FKWDA members conscientiously comply with-- as well as proactively enforce--all government regulations. When on the water, members intervene upon any obsevred violation of legally established protections, but always with a respectful and instructive attitude.

Central to our efforts is our Code of Ethics and Operator Guidelines, which was written according to the regulations of the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Mammal Viewing Guidelines. In consultation with marine biologists and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, member operators formed and agreed to further specifications and protections for the Code as well.

Using the best ecological information available to us, as well as years of combined experience on the water, our excursion operators seek to reduce any negative impacts the pursuit of our livelihoods may cause. Any harassment or disturbance of wild dolphins jeopardizes the sustainability of marine tourism, and directly threatens our interests.
To protect the health of wild dolphins in the lower Keys, the FKWDA focuses on educating passengers, marine excursion operators, and the wider public about the ecology of wild dolphins in their natural habitat. We invite other owner-operator captains to apply for membership with us. Membership requires (but is not limited to) abiding by our Code of Ethics and Operator Guidelines. Often, owner-operators are already in compliance, and the FKWDA can provide a more formal recognition of their existing efforts.



     Our Code of Ethics and Operator Guidelines

FKWDA member operators agree to abide by the following terms and conditions. Often, excursion operators already follow these specifications, as safe and responsible boat captains and as seasoned observers of local dolphins. Our Code allows a more formal recognition for ecologically sound, legally compliant, and conscientious owner-operators.

  • In compliance with the MMPA and NOAA regulations, we do not feed any dolphin at any time. We do not chase, close in, cut off, place at risk, harass, or endanger in any way any dolphin or other wildlife.
  • We do not operate our vessels in a manner that disrupts dolphins' daily activities, feeding times or locations, social interactions, reproductive behavior and related cycles, nor any other life activity or function. We seek to reduce negative impacts of tour operations on marine habitat and organisms.
  • If avoidance behaviors are displayed by a dolphin or dolphins, we move away to within a generous distance. Such behaviors include but are not limited to: turning away from the vessel, increasing distance from the vessel, increased swimming rate, erratic or evasive swimming or movement, tail-slapping, 'chuffing', and other signs of avoidance or annoyance.
  • When a dolphin or dolphins are traveling, our tour boats maintain a generous distance, paralleling the movement of the dolphins-not following behind them.
  • No more than two vessels view a dolphin or dolphins at the same time, both staying a respectful distance. A priority vessel is identified by agreement between the two captains, established via radio. The first captain to observe and locate dolphins should receive priority, unless that captain specifically yields it to the second captain.
  • The second vessel maintains a reasonable distance from the priority vessel, in a manner that allows both vessels to observe the dolphins (though from different distances), without harassment of either the dolphins or the closer vessel.
  • The priority vessel captain limits the time she or he keeps the closer position, within reasonable bounds of consideration. This allows the second vessel time for observation, while limiting the total amount of contact with the dolphins.
  • Member captains communicate closely with other member captains as well as with non-member operators when on the water. We use designated VHF radio channels and/or cell phones, prior to approaching another vessel near dolphins or on the way to see dolphins.
  • We intervene upon any operator or passenger observed violating any part of the MMPA or NOAA's Marine Mammal Viewing Guidelines. Communication occurs upon observation whenever possible, via cell phone versus VHF radio. The goal is to inform the alleged violator of the relevant laws, while maintaining due respect and privacy for the individual. If immediate intervention is not reasonable, we communicate with the operator observed violating, or carrying a passenger observed violating, at a later time.
  • The goal of intervention and communication regarding violation of marine mammal legal protections is to facilitate marine mammal health and safety, and to educate passengers and operators. Efforts are made to communicate with tour and recreational operators aside or apart from their passengers, while encouraging them to inform their passengers of the violation immediately. Tour passengers and recreational boaters do not necessarily have the experience tour owners and operators do, and assume their ignorance of marine law.
  • We avoid undue confrontation over violations, and do not react in any way that unduly upsets dolphins or passengers. Intervention and communications with passengers and operators stays firmly within an informational context, in which we report and remind about the specifics of relevant laws. Members are encouraged to also articulate the long-term ecological and economic benefits of compliance.
  • We seek to educate ourselves, other boat operators, passengers, and the wider public about the protection of wild dolphins in the lower Keys. We advocate conservation of the Florida Keys marine ecosystems and wildlife populations, and widespread compliance with the MMPA and with NOAA guidelines.
  • We seek also to strengthen scientific research on dolphins and marine ecosystems, and to increase its role and ongoing review in government policy and our own practices. We include in our activities consultation with agency officials, marine resource managers, scientists and educators, and other excursion operators about the role of eco-tourism enterprise in facilitating dolphin protection and marine habitat conservation.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972...

...prohibits the take or harassment of dolphins. FKWDA members are proud to have long been in compliance with stringent ecological standards. The FKWDA Code of Ethics and Operator Guidelines is written directly from the MMPA and from NOAA's Viewing Guidelines.


The Act defines harassment quite specifically in its text:
"The term 'take' means to harass, hunt, capture, or kill, or attempt to harass, hunt, capture, or kill any marine mammal. Feeding is prohibited."

"The term 'harassment' means any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which:

injures or has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild; or

disturbs or is likely to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, surfacing, nursing, breeding, feeding or sheltering to a point where such behavior patterns are abandoned or significantly altered."
(NOAA website, www.noaa.gov)