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WDC reward provided in successful prosecution of dolphin crime

The US Department of Justice recently announced the successful prosecution of two perpetrators of a dolphin crime involving the shooting of bottlenose dolphins with a hunting bow. The incident involved brothers who shot at two dolphins who had stranded near Orangefield, Texas with a compound bow in July 2014. One dolphin was fatally wounded, and the other was subsequently rescued by wildlife agents and returned to more suitable habitat. The brothers plead guilty to federal wildlife violations of taking a marine mammal in a Texas courtroom on February 17th.

WDC has been active in offering rewards to address the increasing number of dolphin crimes in the northern Gulf of Mexico and Florida panhandle region. Reports of dead dolphins washing ashore with gun-shot and other wounds from arrows and screwdrivers have been scattered throughout the media since 2012, suggesting that a more recent and disturbing trend of targeted vandalism might be surfacing. Compounding the concerns surrounding these reports was the fear that these carcasses, washing ashore in Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, and Florida might just represent only a few of the many possible incidences of such lethal interactions between humans and wild dolphins.

These fears may be well-founded. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Office of Law Enforcement is currently investigating a dolphin crime involving a pregnant bottlenose dolphin found dead on Miramar Beach in the area of Destin, Florida . A necropsy revealed the dolphin died of a gunshot wound, and was within weeks of giving birth. More recently, another case of a dolphin that had been fatally shot with a bow near Orange Beach, Alabama was also solved

Since 2002, there have been at least 17 documented cases of stranded dolphins with evidence of gunshot wounds, and with the majority (70%) occurring since 2010, revealing a continuing need for long-term vigilance and for the public to come forward with information to support law enforcement efforts.

Rewards can incentivize the public to come forward with crucial information that can lead to the identification, arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for these illegal and cruel acts. WDC is offering a $2500 reward in the case of the pregnant dolphin that was killed in Miramar Beach, FL, and will be providing a reward to the individual that came forward to assist in this current prosecution in Texas.

Harassing, harming, killing or feeding wild dolphins is prohibited under the US Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) of 1972.  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. The MMPA is a federal law which makes it illegal to harass, hunt, capture, or kill, or to attempt to harass, hunt, capture, or kill, any marine mammal in waters under the jurisdiction of the United States. The Act protects all species of dolphins, as well as other marine mammals such as whales and seals.

In this most recent case in Texas, the defendants each face up to one year in federal prison and a $20,000.00 fine. A sentencing date has not yet been set.

WDC does not take these crimes lightly. Unfortunately, the byproduct of dolphin habituation to human interaction in the region, including activities to swim with or feed these animals, is resulting in closer proximity and access to wild dolphins. The loss of fear and the expectation of being fed changes dolphins’ behaviors and can result in dolphins approaching recreational and commercial fishermen looking for a hand-out, or taking bait and catch from their fishing gear. Dolphins can also feed on discarded fish from fishing boats and learn to associate these boats with an easily-accessible food source. Dolphins can be seen as a nuisance and as a result are at risk for retaliation or vandalism from the public or can be used for target practice, as well as injuries from boats and propellers.