JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. – A photo of a North Florida angler holding a dolphin several feet out of the water has prompted outrage online and investigations by state and federal agencies. It’s not clear exactly where the photo was taken.
A marine biologist told News4JAX his first reaction to seeing that picture was horror. Harassing or feeding wild dolphins is against federal law.
According to Jacksonville Beach resident, Kevin Beaugrand, the photo of the dolphin hoisted out of the water was posted on Instagram last week and then shared with more than 100,000 people on a surfing account. It appears the photo has since been deleted from Instagram.
“I was immediately enraged,” said Beaugrand, who told News4JAX he saw the post on the surfing account Saturday.
He said he’s an avid surfer and wanted to take action after seeing the photo.
“It’s a crime against nature,” Beaugrand said.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, feeding or harassing dolphins violates the Marine Mammals Protection Act. It’s against that law to disturb their behavioral patterns or injure them in the wild.
Jacksonville University marine science professor Dr. Quinton White said holding a dolphin out of the water could hurt them.
“The dolphin was probably ill to be caught like that,” Dr. White said. “And to put that kind of stress on an animal really is horrific.”
He said marine mammals need buoyancy to breathe, so hoisting a dolphin out of the water can make it very hard for them to draw breath.
“It may not survive...and we won’t know probably for a while whether it made it or not. So it’s, it was pretty horrific when I saw it. A lot of animals, people don’t realize it, they catch them. And they say, ‘Oh, I want to take pictures,’ and they put it back in the water...and they die because they’re not used to being out of the water,” Dr. White said.
Beaugrand reported the photo to several agencies. NOAA and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are now investigating.
If prosecuted, violators of the Marine Mammal Protection Act could face civil penalties up to about $34,000 or criminal fines and up to a year in prison.
News4JAX reached out to the person holding the dolphin in the photo on Instagram — we have not yet heard back.
Dr. White says if you see a marine mammal in distress, the best thing you can do is call Fish and Wildlife to let them assess the situation.
A spokesperson for NOAA said, “Anyone with information should contact NOAA’s Enforcement Hotline at (800) 853-1964.”