FORT MYERS, Fla. – After the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recovered a dead dolphin last week near Naples that was shot in the head with a gun or spear, a $20,000 reward was offered for information that leads to civil penalties or a criminal arrest.
FWC recovered another dolphin last week off the Panhandle that was shot in the side. Last year, a dolphin was found shot off Captiva.
The reward is offered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“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,” said Tracy Dunn, assistant director of NOAA’s Southeast law enforcement division.
Bottlenose dolphins are among the most popular animals roaming the coast of the Sunshine State, for tourists and residents alike.
Some people feed dolphins, and that can lead to dire consequences.
“The dolphin off of Naples and the one from Captiva last year were likely in what we called begging posture,” said Stacey Horstman, an expert on bottlenose dolphins with NOAA.
Dolphins that learn to associate humans with food may follow boats, begging for food.
“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,” Horstman said. “They don’t think about it when they feed them.”
The latest dolphin that died had a hole in the right side of its head, just in front of the right eye.
Bottlenose dolphins are the most common species found along the coast of southwest Florida.
They reach 6 to 12 feet in length and can live 50 years or more, according to FWC.
“Stay approximately 50 yards away from viewing dolphins in the wild, and that’s your best bet for not impacting them,” Horstman said. If they swim up to a boat, “put the boat engine in neutral. If the dolphin is begging, do not try to engage with that animal in any way.”
It’s against federal law to feed or harass dolphins, and penalties can include a $100,000 fine and up to one year in jail.
Anyone with information about the crimes can call the NOAA wildlife hotline at (800) 853-1964.
Follow Chad Gillis on Twitter: @ChadGillisNP