FORT MYERS, Fla. – Investigators are looking into who or what made a penetrating gash in the head of a bottlenose dolphin that was later found dead on a Florida beach.
Investigators from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association's Office of Law Enforcement said marine mammal experts saw the wound after the dolphin was found dead on Upper Captiva Island in the Gulf of Mexico near Fort Myers. The association announced a $38,000 reward Thursday for a conviction related to the death.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recovered the animal at the end of May, and a necropsy revealed it had been impaled in the head with a spear-like object while alive.
“It takes a truly callous person to stab a gentle dolphin in the head,” said Kate MacFall, Florida state director for the Humane Society of the United States. “Dolphins are among the most beloved of marine animals and there is absolutely no excuse for this wanton cruelty."
Marine mystery: More than 260 dolphins found stranded along the Gulf Coast
The wound, penetrating from above and in front of the right eye, extended almost 6 inches toward the top and back of the head, a necropsy revealed. The wound ended inside the head at the top of the skull and had evidence of hemorrhaging, indicating wounds consistent with being impaled prior to death.
The animal was an adult male previously known to area biologists. They said he was last observed swimming around fishing boats with "begging dolphins."
The puncture wound indicates the dolphin might have been in a begging posture when he was stabbed, the necropsy noted.
NOAA said there have been at least 26 violent incidents toward dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico since 2002, including evidence of them being shot by guns or arrows, or impaled.
The agency recommends avoiding feeding or trying to feed wild dolphins. It is illegal to do so and dolphins fed by people learn to associate people, boats and fishing gear with food, which puts dolphins and people in harmful situations.
Additionally, harassing, harming, killing or feeding wild dolphins is prohibited under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. 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.
Follow Michael Braun on Twitter: @MichaelBraunNP
This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: Dolphin impaled in head found dead on Florida's Captiva Island