After an elevation in human-caused dolphin deaths in the Gulf of Mexico, several groups have offered rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible.
According to the Huffington Post, dolphins are being discovered shot, stabbed and even mutilated in what some are calling a 'rampage' in waters off the coast of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
The attacks have been so severe that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), was forced to issue a "heads up" directive last week to environmental and enforcement agencies, for increased human-dolphin interaction.
The Sun Herald reported that one dolphin was found along Ocean Springs/Gautier coastline with a 9mm bullet wound, another had its tail cut off, and in the most recent case, a dolphin found dead off the coast of Mississippi was missing its lower jaw.
NOAA has appointed Richard Stifel, an enforcement officer for NOAA, to investigate the mutilation and deaths of dolphins, but several conservation groups have also stepped forward to offer rewards in the case.
The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport has offered a $5,000 reward, matching one tendered by the Animal Legal Defense Fund. Ric O'Barry, star of The Cove movie and director of Dolphin Project.org also pledged $5,000 for information about the killings leading to a conviction.
Whale and Dolphin Conservation has two existing rewards in place for outstanding cases of dolphin deaths that occurred in June and September of this year. The first was offered for a bottlenose dolphin that had been stabbed in the head with a screwdriver somewhere around the Florida-Alabama border in Perdido Bay. The second, for another bottlenose dolphin found shot to death on Elmer's Island in Louisiana last September.
On November 20, Captain Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS), pledged a whopping $20,000 reward for the apprehension of the dolphin killers.
"I regard the killing of a dolphin as murder, and what we appear to have on the Gold Coast is a dolphin serial killer," said Watson in a press release at Sea Shepherd.org.
"I want this sadistic killer stopped," he added, "and I have set aside $20,000 of my own savings to be paid out to any person who delivers the evidence to find and convict this person or persons." Watson also said that anyone who wishes to share information "may remain anonymous and communicate with NOAA, NMFS, or Gulf Coast law enforcement officials."
Last July a Digital Journal special report revealed that Gulf region bottlenose dolphins were facing major pressures. Courtney Vail, the Campaigns Director for Whale and Dolphin Conservation, told DJ that cetaceans were being assaulted with so many challenges "including recovery from the oil spill, an ongoing unusual mortality event (UME) that has resulted in hundreds of deaths ... and interactions with both recreational and commercial fisheries."
Stacey Horstman, Bottlenose Dolphin Conservation Coordinator with NOAA Fisheries Service in St. Petersburg, FL, said that dolphins were "suffering from increased boat strikes and entanglement in fishing gear." But far worse for the dolphins she added, "is when a dolphin is fed, they get used to people and lose their natural wariness. So they approach people and beg for food."
This loss of fear coupled with the expectation of being fed Horstman explained, means that dolphins are approaching commercial and recreational fishermen and are "taking the bait and catch from their fishing gear." This not only leads to "increased boat strikes and entanglement in fishing gear," she added, but fed up fishermen taking retaliatory measures.
Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, killing, feeding and harassing dolphins is a federal offense and can carry a fine of up to $100,000 and a sentence of one year in jail for each violation.
Anyone with information in the dolphin attacks can call the NOAA Fisheries Enforcement Hotline at 1-800-853-1964. Individuals can leave anonymous tips or identify themselves when providing details on incidents.