Recent Dolphin Deaths in the Northern Gulf of Mexico Still a Concern and Mystery NOAA Seeks Public’s Help for Information
NOAA is extremely concerned that people are injuring and killing dolphins in the northern Gulf of Mexico. In addition to the ongoing Northern Gulf Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Event, an increased number of dead stranded bottlenose dolphins were discovered with signs of human related injuries. NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement (OLE) is investigating these cases and asks for anyone with details about these incidents to call the enforcement hotline (reports can be made confidentially and anonymously):
NOAA OLE hotline: 1-800-853-1964
In the past 6 months, two dolphins were killed by gunshot wounds (one in LA and one in MS). In Alabama, a third dolphin was also stabbed in its head with a screwdriver and died the next day. NOAA does not currently believe a particular person or group of people are shooting and injuring dolphins because the cases are spread out in both time and space. Rewards for information leading to the identification, arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the dolphin impaled with a screwdriver and the Elmer’s Island, LA shooting case are available.
In total, between 2002 and 2012 there were 12 documented cases of dead dolphins with evidence of gunshot wounds. It’s unknown for some of these cases whether the gunshots happened before or after the dolphin’s death.
Dead Bottlenose Dolphins with Evidence of Gunshot in the Gulf of Mexico: 2002-2012 (10 years)
East Biloxi Channel
San Jose Island
Many dolphins also stranded dead and were recovered with missing body parts. For example, some had the entire head, jaw, flippers, and/or tails removed, or slices to the body. In many of these cases, it is still unknown whether the missing parts were caused by predators (e.g., sharks), scavengers (e.g., wild animals), or humans before or after death.
Gross necropsies (animal autopsies) are conducted on stranded dolphins recovered by NOAA’s partners in the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, but it can take weeks to months to analyze tissues at diagnostic labs. Carcasses that are severely decomposed or missing parts are especially difficult to analyze since only limited information is obtained.
To help us quickly respond to any new potential cases of human related injuries, please immediately report any injured, entangled, or stranded marine mammal in the Southeast U.S:
Southeast Region Stranding Network: 1-877- WHALE HELP
Harassing, harming, killing, or feeding wild dolphins is prohibited under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), which is one of the primary federal laws protecting marine mammals in the U.S. Violations can be prosecuted either civilly or criminally and are punishable by up to $100,000 in fines and up to one year in jail per violation.
Additionally, significant dolphin injury and mortality in the Southeast occurs from people feeding or attempting to feed dolphins in the wild. Dolphins that are fed by humans learn to associate people with food and put themselves in dangerous situations when they approach people, boats, and fishing gear for food. Dolphins will even remove bait and catch directly from fishing gear and teach these behaviors to their young, which is known to frustrate fishermen. For example, fishermen frustrated by these dolphin behaviors have intentionally injured or killed dolphins.
Dolphin died on Elmer’s Island, LA from gunshot wound on its right side just behind the blowhole. The bullet was discovered lodged in the dolphin’s lung.
Photo Credit: Audubon Nature Institute
Right Photo: Bottlenose dolphin swimming with the screwdriver impaled in its head on June 21 in Perdido Bay, Alabama. Photo Credit: Anonymous
Left Photo: Dead dolphin with a hole in its head from the impaled screwdriver. Photo Credit: Alabama State Officer