“If you’re a dolphin (are you?), the Gulf of Mexico isn’t exactly the place you want to be right now,” Jordan Sargent wrote at Gawker.
Since February 2010, a few months before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, some 798 dolphins have washed up dead at beaches along the Gulf.
In May, NOAA Fisheries declared an “unusual mortality event” for bottlenose dolphins on the Texas coast, as some 123 dead or dying dolphins were found on beaches from Jefferson County to Cameron County between November 2011 and March 2012. This is the state’s fifth recorded Unusual Mortality Event for dolphins in twenty years. The others were declared in 1992, 1994, 2007, and 2008.
And now, someone is mutilating cetaceans in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Last week, a dolphin with a missing lower jaw washed up on Mississippi’s Ship Island. Two weeks ago, a dead dolphin that had been shot with a 9mm washed up near Ocean Springs, Miss. Other dolphins have been found stabbed with knives and screwdrivers or shot, Mary Perez reported in the Biloxi Sun Herald.
And Moby Solangi, IMMS executive director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, reported a dolphin with a sliced-off tail recently was discovered in Louisiana.
“Animals don’t eat each other’s tails off,” Solangi told Perez. “We think there’s someone or some group on a rampage. They not only kill them but also mutilate them.”
No such violent incidents have been reported in Texas.
This slate of violence prompted NOAA to send out an e-mail to “environmental and enforcement agencies to be on the lookout for human-interaction dolphin strandings,” Perez reported. The e-mail asked those who discover carcasses to carefully document their findings.
When reached by the the TM Daily Post, Jeff Radonski, acting deputy special agent in charge for NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement, declined to discuss the specifics of any of the cases, citing an ongoing investigation. But he did stress that the public’s help is key to solving these cases.
“We need people who live along the coast who know something to help us out,” he said. “Maybe they saw something that happened.” Tips can be phoned in to NOAA’s enforcement hotline at (800) 853-1964.
Harassing, harming, killing, or feeding a wild dolphin is violation of the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. Violations are punishable by a fine of up to $100,000 or a year in prison for each incident. They should not be disturbed even if they wash up on the beach already dead, Radonski said.
“People need to keep their distance [from marine mammals],” He said. “Don’t feed the dolphins or chase them boats. Watch them from a distance.”
“It’s repugnant. It’s cruel. It’s illegal. It’s senseless,” Solangi said, according to a blog post at AL.com. “These dolphins are already under stress from the oil spill, Hurricane Katrina, and the dead zones. A number of dolphins have died in recent years. There’s no reason for this.”