A pregnant bottlenose dolphin was found dead of a gunshot wound in Mississippi, in April 2018, the latest of numerous examples of violence against dolphins in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Photo: Institute for Marine Mammal Studies

By Sarah Mervosh
1 August 2018

(The New York Times) – This whodunit begins on a beach in Mississippi, where a bottlenose dolphin turned up dead one day this spring.

A man found the animal lying at the water’s edge in April and called the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, which responds to dolphin strandings and conducts necropsies, or animal autopsies, said Moby Solangi, the organization’s executive director.

Since there was no visible sign of foul play, the remains weren’t examined immediately.

But in July, veterinarians dissected the dolphin and found something was amiss: a bullet, lodged in the animal’s lung. The dolphin had been shot to death, and in an added blow, the necropsy revealed that she had been pregnant with a full-term calf, which also died.

Now, a $11,500 reward is being offered to help solve the case. It’s the latest example of violence against dolphins in the northern Gulf of Mexico, which experts say is becoming increasingly common.

From Florida to Texas, 21 dolphins have been found dead with gunshot wounds since 2002, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Two others were shot with an arrow, and one was impaled with a screwdriver. Most of the deaths were recorded in the past decade.

The trend raises baffling questions: Who would shoot a friendly dolphin? And why?

Stacey Horstman, a bottlenose dolphin conservation coordinator for the agency who helps track the data, has a theory. She calls it “the domino effect” of feeding dolphins in the wild.

When people hand out food to wild dolphins, she said, the animals learn to approach boats and teach their calves to do the same. Some even stick their head out of the water and open their mouth to beg.

“It’s really like any wild animal, like bears in Yellowstone,” Ms. Horstman said. “When dolphins are fed, it changes their behavior.”

As dolphins come near boats, they are also known to snatch food off fishing gear, leading fishermen to retaliate, she said. Among past dolphin killings in which the offender has been identified, she said, “several of them have been fishermen who are frustrated.” [more]

A Pregnant Dolphin. A Fatal Gunshot. A Disturbing Trend.

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