Authorities are offering a reward of up to $20,000 (£15,400) for information on the dead of two dolphins which have been found with bullet and stab wounds.
One was discovered by biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in Naples, Florida, late last week. The animal had been fatally wounded by what appeared to be a bullet and/or a sharp object.
Earlier in the same week, Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge experts recovered a dolphin with a bullet in its left side along Pensacola Beach, Florida.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office of Law Enforcement is offering a reward of up to $20,000 (£15,400) for information that leads to a civil penalty or criminal conviction of the person or persons responsible for either of the recent deaths.
The NOAA said 29 dolphins have been found stranded in the southeast of the country since 2002, and there is evidence they were shot by guns or arrows or impaled with objects like fishing spears. The administration is advising people not to feed the wild animals, as this is believed to be part of the problem.
A spokesperson said: “Biologists believe these cases may stem from humans feeding wild dolphins. Dolphins fed by people learn to associate people and boats with food, which can put them in harmful situations.
“Dolphins may suffer fatal impacts from boat strikes, entanglement in or ingestion of fishing gear, and acts of intentional harm like these. You can prevent harm to wild dolphins by not feeding or attempting to feed them.”
As well as being widely regarded as one of the most intelligent species on Earth, dolphins are also of vital importance to all marine life.
According to the World Wildlife Fund: “Dolphins play an important role in keeping their environment in balance. They eat other animals – mainly fish and squid – and are themselves a source of food for some sharks and other creatures.
“Without dolphins, the animals they prey on would increase in number, and their predators wouldn’t have as much to eat. This would disrupt the natural balance in the food chain and could negatively affect other wildlife and the health of the ocean environment.
“By protecting dolphins we’re helping look after our oceans – and that’s good for all the wildlife and billions of people who depend on the sea.”