TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement is offering a reward for help identifying anyone responsible for the recent deaths of two dolphins.
Wildlife officials say the body of a dolphin that washed up on a beach in Naples last week appeared to have been fatally wounded by a bullet and/or a sharp object.
The same week, another dolphin was found dead off Pensacola Beach with a fatal puncture wound to its head, officials said.
NOAA is also investigating the death of a dolphin found off Captiva Island in May 2019.
A necropsy showed the animal was impaled with a spear-like object while alive.
The dolphin was known to biologists in the area and was last seen swimming around fishing boats.
NOAA said it was seen with “begging dolphins,” and the puncture wound shows the dolphin may have been in a begging position when it was stabbed. The investigation is still ongoing and the reward for information on that case was $38,000 as of July 11.
The NOAA said biologists believe the cases stem from humans feeding wild dolphins. Dolphins will learn to associate people with boats and food, putting them in harmful situations. Dolphins are more likely to be harmed by boat strikes, fishing gear and acts of unintentional harm, officials said.
Dolphins are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. A fine of up to $100,000 could be issued to persons who harass, hunt, kill or feed wild dolphins. They could also face up to one year in jail per violation.
A Kansas man was recently fined $1,250 for feeding a dolphin while on vacation in Florida.
Wildlife officials are offering a reward of up to $20,000 for information that leads to a civil penalty or criminal conviction of the person or persons responsible for the recent deaths. They’re asking anyone with information to call the NOAA Enforcement Hotline at 1-800-853-1964. Tips may be left anonymously.