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Investigators seeking tips after Florida dolphins found shot, stabbed

Biologists said humans feeding dolphins is contributing to their deaths

Four Florida dolphins were found shot by guns or arrows or impaled with objects like fishing spears in the last year.
Four Florida dolphins were found shot by guns or arrows or impaled with objects like fishing spears in the last year. (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

NAPLES, Fla. – After two dolphins were recently found dead in Florida, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is offering up to a $20,000 reward for any information that helps find out who is responsible.

The call out comes after biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) found a dead dolphin near Naples late last week. NOAA said the dolphin was killed by a bullet and/or a sharp object.

The same week, Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge experts found a dolphin with a bullet in its left side along Pensacola Beach.

A dolphin, also with a fatal puncture wound to its head, was found dead off Captiva Island in May 2019.

According to NOAA, biologists said the cases may stem from humans feeding wild dolphins. Dolphins fed by people learn to associate people and boats with food, which can put them in harmful situations, according to NOAA.

Since 2002, at least 29 dolphins, including the dolphins found last week, have stranded in the Southeast U.S. There is evidence they were shot by guns or arrows or impaled with objects like fishing spears. Four incidents have occurred within the last year, NOAA said.

Harassing, hunting, killing or feeding wild dolphins, or attempting to do these activities is prohibited under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Violations can be prosecuted either civilly or criminally and are punishable by up to $100,000 in fines and up to one year in jail per violation.

A recent case resulted in NOAA assessing a civil penalty of $1,250 against a Kansas man for feeding a dolphin while in Florida on vacation.

NOAA also works with the Department of Justice to initiate criminal prosecutions for more egregious cases. This includes the 2009 conviction and jail sentence given to a fishing captain for making homemade pipe bombs and throwing them at dolphins.

NOAA officials are seeking information from anyone who may have details about these incidents to call the NOAA Enforcement Hotline at (800) 853-1964. Tips may be left anonymously.