On Wednesday, June 3rd, a Texas court sentenced two brothers charged with the killing of a bottlenose dolphin found dead from a hunting arrow wound near the Louisiana border in the Gulf of Mexico. Although the perpetrators, who pled guilty to the July 2014 killing incident in February of this year, each faced up to one year in federal prison and a $20,000 fine, they were instead sentenced to one year of probation, including a ban on hunting and fishing, and will share $7,353.50 in restitution. In addition, the brothers’ punishment also included 50 hours of community service and a $500 fine each, consistent with a plea agreement signed earlier in the year.
Sadly, this targeted dolphin killing is just one of several that have occurred in this region over the past several years. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Office of Law Enforcement has been investigating another dolphin crime since last fall involving a pregnant bottlenose dolphin found dead on Miramar Beach in the area of Destin, Florida that remains unsolved. A necropsy revealed the dolphin died of a gunshot wound, and was within weeks of giving birth. Another case of a dolphin that had been fatally shot with a bow near Orange Beach, Alabama in December 2014 was also solved.
More recently, an Instagram posting alerted authorities to an individual claiming responsibility for poaching a bottlenose dolphin in Florida sometime last December. This is also being investigated and leads have resulted from the circulation of the social media posting through public channels attempting to verify its authenticity and any individuals involved. Any information on this crime should be sent to NOAA’s office of law enforcement through its national hotline at 1-800-853-1964. Information may be left anonymously.
A spate of dolphin deaths resulting from directed acts of violence continues in the Gulf region, and many of these incidents remain unresolved. News of these increasing dolphin crimes has prompted WDC and other groups to offer rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for these illegal and cruel acts perpetrated against protected bottlenose dolphins.
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, and will be providing a reward to the individual that came forward to assist in this current prosecution in Texas.
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.
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.
WDC does not take these crimes lightly. Unfortunately, the proliferation of activities to swim with or feed these animals may be resulting in closer proximity and access to wild dolphins in the gulf region. The loss of fear and the expectation of being fed can result in dolphins approaching recreational and commercial fishermen looking for a hand-out, or removing bait and catch from their lines. 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 as a result, and are at risk for retaliation or vandalism from the public, as well as injuries from boats and propellers.