NOAA Looks To Public For Tips On Recent Dolphin Deaths
*Editors Note: There is an image at the end of this article that some readers may find disturbing.
Last week, a dolphin was found off the coast of Naples with a fatal wound to its head, and another dolphin was found with a bullet in its side off Pensacola Beach.
The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Law Enforcement is overseeing an investigation to find those responsible for harming the marine mammals.
NOAA’s Bottle Nose Dolphin Conservation Coordinator, Stacey Horstman, said human interaction with dolphins can create perilous situations for the animals.
“Both Southwest Florida and the Florida Panhandle are known hotspot areas for dolphins being illegally fed,” Horstman said. “What that means is that they are more readily approaching boats and they start to beg.”
Horstman said feeding wild dolphins can create behaviors that some boaters may find irritating, like snatching bait or begging for food.
"And these behaviors of the dolphins are not always welcome, so they can lead to intentional harm cases such as like what we are seeing," Horstman said.
The wounds found on the Naples dolphin found last week, and another one found off of Captiva Island in 2019, lead Horstman to believe the dolphins were in a begging position—head out of the water with an open mouth—when they were injured.
According to NOAA, 29 dolphins have been found with evidence of being shot by guns and arrows, or impaled by fishing gear since 2002, with four of those cases occurring over the last year.
Harassing, feeding and killing dolphins is against the law and Assistant Director of NOAA’s Southeast Division of Law Enforcement, Tracy Dunn, said he wants to hold those who harmed the marine mammals accountable.
"Right now, we only have the physical evidence from the necropsy and that does not carry us very far," Dunn said. "So public help is extremely important in solving cases like this."
Dunn said tips can be made anonymously by calling the NOAA Enforcement Hotline at 1-800-853-1964.