The two dolphin deaths come less than a year after another dolphin was found dead in the same state in May 2019
Officials are offering a reward of up to $20,000 for information after two dolphins were found dead in Florida.
According to a press release from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission found the first dead mammal in Naples, Florida, last week, with a wound that appeared to be from a bullet or a sharp object.
In that same week, experts with Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge found a second dolphin in Pensacola Beach, Florida, with a bullet in its side.
“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,” Tracy Dunn, assistant director of NOAA’s Southeast law enforcement division, told USA Today.
The two deaths come less than a year after another dolphin was found dead in Captiva Island, Florida, in May 2019, according to the press release. That dolphin had a fatal puncture wound to its head, and an investigation into that death is still ongoing.
Biologists believe these deaths may be partially caused by people feeding the animals. This teaches the dolphins to associate people with food, potentially placing them in dangerous situations.
“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,” Stacey Horstman, an expert with the NOAA, told USA Today. “They don’t think about it when they feed them.”
“Stay approximately 50 yards away from viewing dolphins in the wild, and that’s your best bet for not impacting them,” Horstman advised. “If the dolphin is begging, do not try to engage with that animal in any way.”
According to the press release, at least 29 dolphins have died in the southeastern United States since 2002, with evidence that they were shot or impaled. Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, killing, hunting, harassing or feeding dolphins can lead to up to $100,000 in fines or up to one year in jail.
Anyone with information about the recent deaths is encouraged to call the NOAA Enforcement Hotline at (800) 853-1964.