The Florida gulf coast and other areas of the Gulf of Mexico are known hotspots for dolphin harassment. Interactions between humans and wild dolphins routinely occur through close vessel approaches or through direct contact associated with commercial or recreational fisheries, swim-with, or feeding activities. Too often, these interactions do not end well for dolphins.
In recent years, an alarming number of dolphins in this region have been fatally wounded by gunshot, hunting arrows, or sharp tools (e.g., screwdrivers). Over the last two decades, at least 29 dolphins have stranded with evidence of intentionally-inflicted wounds. Such acts are illegal under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and carry a penalty of up to $100,000 and up to one year in jail per violation.
Most recently in February, two dolphins were found on the Gulf Coast of Florida near Pensacola Beach and further south in Naples with fatal injuries caused by human violence. In May 2019, a dolphin with a fatal puncture wound to its head was found dead off Captiva Island, Florida.
OPS has coordinated and contributed to several large collective rewards that will hopefully encourage members of the public to come forward with any information leading to the civil or criminal prosecution of the perpetrator(s) of this crime.
What you can do!
Do not harass or feed dolphins in the wild. Dolphins can become habituated to hand-outs or discarded bycatch which places them in harm’s way and makes them more susceptible to injury from boat propellers or ill-intentioned individuals.
Call NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement Hotline with any information about these, or other cases of dolphin harassment, at 800-853-1964.