The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is offering a $20,000 reward to anyone who can lead them to whoever murdered two dolphins found dead and beached last week, the Miami Herald reported on Tuesday.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologists discovered a slain dolphin that died of a bullet or sharp object near Naples, Florida, last week, while Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge personnel found another shot in Pensacola. In May 2019, another dolphin was found dead from a six inch deep impalement wound [warning: graphic photo] on North Captiva Island, at the time offering a reward up to $38,000.
At least 29 dolphins have died in the southeast U.S. since 2002 from shootings or stabbings, NOAA wrote in a press release. The agency wrote that biologists believe some of the deaths may be the result of humans illegally feeding wild dolphins, leading to them seeking out humans and risking “fatal impacts from boat strikes, entanglement in or ingestion of fishing gear, and acts of intentional harm like these.” The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 prohibits harassing, hunting, feeding, and killing of dolphins and violations can land perpetrators up to $100,000 in fines and a year-long prison sentence. Prior perpetrators have included fishing captains that shot at dolphins approaching boats or hooked fish and a convicted felon sentence to two years in prison in 2009 for throwing pipe bombs at dolphins.
“The dolphin off of Naples and the one from Captiva last year were likely in what we called begging posture,” bottlenose dolphin expert Stacey Horstman told the Fort Myers News-Press. “... I think it’s really hard for a lot of people to see how a simple thing like feeding a dolphin can lead to shocking and egregious behavior like this. They don’t think about it when they feed them.”
“These cases can rarely be solved without the public, people coming forward and saying they might have seen something, and we can follow up on that,” NOAA Southeast law enforcement division director Tracy Dunn said, according to the News-Press.
The reward may be paid out to anyone whose information leads to a conviction. Anyone can call 1-800-853-1964 and drop a lead on the killings, including anonymously.