Dolphins Hurt by Guns and Explosive

Experts Worried More Dolphins Hurt by Guns and Explosives

NOAA Law Enforcement Seeks Information From The Public 

In March 2009, a federal judge sentenced Alvy Key of Panama City, Fla. to two years in prison, three years of supervised probation, and $125 special assessment for attempting to harm bottlenose dolphins with pipe bombs – a blatant violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).

Key pleaded guilty on January 14, 2009, for unlawful take of a marine mammal and possession of an explosive by a convicted felon.

“This is an extraordinarily egregious case and an example of how bottlenose dolphin harassment is on the rise in the southeast,” said Allan Coker, Special Agent for NOAA’s Fisheries Service.  “Unfortunately, we know this is not the only incident where someone intentionally tried to harm dolphins.” 

This is the third conviction of its kind in the northern Gulf of Mexico within the past two years.  In October 2006, a Panama City, Fla., charterboat captain was sentenced for knowingly and unlawfully shooting at dolphins as they grabbed his clients’ hooked fish.  Similarly, in January 2007, an Orange Beach, Ala., charterboat captain was convicted for illegally shooting at a dolphin that was approaching his charter fishing vessel.

Fishermen are becoming increasingly frustrated when dolphins take their bait or catches, making it even more imperative that people understand feeding of wild dolphins changes the  dolphins’ natural foraging behaviors.  Feeding causes dolphins to become so used to approaching humans and boats for food that they make brazen attempts at preying on hooked bait and catches, creating conflicts with fishermen.  This also puts dolphins at risk of injury from boat propellars and fishing lines and hooks.  Dolphins also teach their calves this behavior, adding to the complexity of these concerns because the calves may learn to depend on people for food rather than forage naturally.

“We are concerned harassment and feeding cause significant behavioral changes in bottlenose dolphins, especially as these cases continue to emerge in the Southeast U.S.,” said Stacey Horstman, Bottlenose Dolphin Conservation Coordinator for NOAA’s Fisheries Service.  “These recent cases of humans deliberately harming dolphins make our conservation efforts even more of a challenge.”

NOAA’s Fisheries Service’s Office of Law Enforcement is receiving increased reports of people taking extraordinary actions against dolphins such as shooting, throwing cherry bombs, and pipe bombs.  They need your help – to report marine mammal violations, such as harassment, illegal feeding, or attempts to injure or kill marine mammals – please contact the NOAA Fisheries Service Enforcement Hotline at 1-800-853-1964.  

Bottlenose dolphins, and all marine mammals, are protected under the MMPA. Violations of the MMPA can result in severe penalties with fines up to $20,000 and one year in jail.