Marine officials on the hunt for culprit who fatally speared Florida dolphin in the head, $38,000 reward offered

The Gulf of Mexico, where the dolphin was found, has regularly witnessed such violence against animals since the turn of the 21st Century


                            Marine officials on the hunt for culprit who fatally speared Florida dolphin in the head, $38,000 reward offered

WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT

The Office of Law Enforcement and marine mammal experts of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is seeking out a culprit who they say fatally injured a bottlenose dolphin with a "spear-like weapon".

Officials received a report of a bottlenose dolphin found dead along the Upper Captiva Island in Lee County, Florida, last month, and found it with a deep head wound, according to a press release from the NOAA. NOAA's stranding network partner, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, recovered the animal at the end of May 2019, and a subsequent necropsy found that the dolphin was impaled in the head with a spear-like object.

It had a wound penetrating from above and in front of the right eye, extending almost six inches toward the top and back of the head, and ended inside the head at the top of the skull. It was also determined that the dolphin had been killed while it was still alive, with officials finding evidence of hemorrhaging, indicating wounds consistent with being impaled prior to death.

The puncture wound also indicated that the dolphin, an adult male known to area biologists, may have been in a begging posture when he was stabbed, which is not natural for wild dolphins and a learned behavior enforced when people feed or interact with them.

The dolphin was found dead with a deep head wound (Source: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

This particular dolphin was last observed around fishing boats and was seen with other "begging dolphins", with NOAA bottlenose dolphin conservation coordinator Stacey Horstman telling CNN that it was probably fed by humans throughout its life.

Feeding dolphins and other such mammals is illegal under the US Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, with the NOAA warning that doing so would condition the animals to associate people, boats, and fishing gear with food. Hortman said the dolphins learn to approach boats in open water, increasing their susceptibility to human-related injuries like getting tangled in a fishing net or cut by a boat propeller. 

"That's when we start to see injuries like boat strikes or intentional harm because the animal is getting so close," she said. "And sometimes, those close interactions aren't always welcome."

This gruesome incident is by no means isolated either, with the Gulf of Mexico regularly seeing violence committed against dolphins this century. It is estimated that, since 2002, at least 26 dolphins (including this one), have evidence of being shot by guns or arrows, or impaled with objects.  

The NOAA is offering a $38,000 reward to anyone who can offer officials with information that would lead them to the perpetrator. Anyone with relevant information has been encouraged to call 1-800-853-1964.

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