Tuesday, April 24, 2018
News Roundup

Violent dolphin deaths a mystery for scientists

ALONG THE GULF COAST -— Over the past several months, dolphins have washed ashore along the northern Gulf Coast with bullet wounds, missing jaws and hacked off fins, and federal officials said they are looking into the mysterious deaths.

The most recent case was of a dolphin found dead off the coast of Mississippi, its lower jaw missing.

Officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Monday they're asking everyone from beachgoers to fishermen to wildlife agents to be on the lookout for injured or dead dolphins – and any unusual interaction between the mammals and people.

"It's very sad to think that anyone could do that to any animal," said Erin Fougeres, a marine mammal scientist for NOAA's southeast office in St. Petersburg. "There have been some obviously intentional cases."

Fougeres said five dolphins have been found shot. In Louisiana, two were shot in 2011 and one in 2012. And in Mississippi, three were found shot this year, the most recent one last week, which was first reported by the Sun-Herald newspaper.

Besides the shootings, a dolphin in Alabama was found with a screwdriver stuck in its head over the summer. Another in Alabama had its tail cut off, and that animal survived. Still others were missing fins or had cuts to their bodies.

"I think it is outrageous," said Moby Solangi, the executive director of Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Miss. "These animals are very docile, very friendly and they're very curious. They come close to the boats, so if you're out there, you'll see them riding the bows. And their curiosity and friendship brings them so close that they become targets and that's the unfortunate thing."

Dolphins are among the species protected by the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act. Violators can be fined up to $10,000 per violation and sent to prison for a year.

The California-based Animal Legal Defense Fund said it is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whomever harmed the dolphins.

The gruesome discoveries are heartbreaking for Gulf Coast scientists, who follow the population. Fougeres said that two months before the 2010 oil spill disaster off the coast of Louisiana, dolphins began stranding themselves and that there were unusually high mortality rates - possibly due to a cold winter that year.

Since then, the spill and another cold winter in 2011 have contributed to several deaths within the Gulf's dolphin population, experts say. Investigators have also found discolored teeth and lung infections within some of the dead dolphins.

Since Feb. 2010, experts have tallied more than 700 recorded dolphin deaths.

Experts have also found increased "human interaction" cases, which include dolphins tangled in fishing lines – and the more violent incidents.

Fougeres cautions that some of the dolphin mutilations might have happened after the animal died from natural causes and washed ashore. She said that in the case of the dolphin with the lower jaw missing, someone could have cut off the jaw for a souvenir after the animal died.

"We have to do a necropsy on the animal and collect tissue samples to try to determine whether or not the injury was pre-or post-mortem" she said.

She also said that the increase in cases might be due to NOAA's dolphin stranding network becoming better trained to notice cruelty cases or unusual deaths.

Some have suggested that the deaths are the work of a few angry fishermen who are upset about bait-stealing dolphins. Yet the majority of fishermen say that while dolphins can be annoying, they wouldn't harm the creatures.

"I don't know who to suspect ... I was really sickened when I read about it," said Tom Becker, of T&D Charters out of Biloxi, Miss., and head of the Mississippi Charter Boat Captains Association, said he's never had a problem with dolphins.

The mammals tend to swim behind his boat until a fish too small to keep is tossed over the side.

"You'll see him under your boat," Becker said, about the dolphin. "He'll get it before it can reach the bottom. I usually leave the area if they're doing that."

Fougeres said she doesn't think the dolphins are being targeted by a gang of people or even by a lone, sick individual.

"The cases are fairly spread apart," she said. "I don't think there is one dolphin murderer out there."

She added that anyone who sees a dead or stranded dolphin, or spots people harassing a marine animal can call the NOAA Enforcement hotline at 800-853-1964.

Comments
Top places to hang with your dog in Tampa Bay, from breweries to baseball games

Top places to hang with your dog in Tampa Bay, from breweries to baseball games

Dogs are more welcome in public than ever these days. Bars and restaurants are making themselves more pet-friendly and you can find weekly "yappy hours" happening at spots all over Tampa Bay. Add to that a healthy number of dog-approved events and e...
Updated: 12 minutes ago

Sarasota student under fire over his racist ‘promposal’

The Sarasota County School District has begun to address the community after a Riverview High School student’s racist prom proposal over the weekend went viral, including reaching out to the Sarasota chapter of the NAACP.High school senior Noah Crowl...
Updated: 22 minutes ago
Court sides with human in copyright fight over monkey selfie

Court sides with human in copyright fight over monkey selfie

SAN FRANCISCO — A U.S. appeals court on Monday favored humans over animals in a novel copyright lawsuit filed over a series of entertaining selfies taken by a monkey with a toothy grin. U.S. copyright law does not allow lawsuits that seek to give ani...
Updated: 1 hour ago
USF extends Mark Harlan’s contract

USF extends Mark Harlan’s contract

As expected, USF athletic director Mark Harlan has signed a contract extension that will keep him at the school through the 2020-21 school year.Harlan recently entered the final year of the original five-year deal he signed in March 2014 that paid hi...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Top 5 at noon: NRA breaks fundraising record after Parkland massacre; attorneys: Seminole Heights murder suspect might be mentally ill; and more

Top 5 at noon: NRA breaks fundraising record after Parkland massacre; attorneys: Seminole Heights murder suspect might be mentally ill; and more

Here are the latest headlines and updates on tampabay.com.NRA BREAKS FUNDRAISING RECORD AFTER PARKLAND MASSACREAs the student-led March for Our Lives movement captured the nation’s attention in the weeks after the Parkland shooting, the other side o...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Buckhorn urged to name woman as fire chief in wake of discrimination suit

Buckhorn urged to name woman as fire chief in wake of discrimination suit

TAMPA — In the wake of a female firefighter’s victory against the city in a discrimination lawsuit, Mayor Bob Buckhorn is being urged to name a high-ranking woman to replace retiring fire Chief Tom Forward.Earlier this month, Buckhorn said he will na...
Updated: 1 hour ago
So far, Pasco’s tourism base: Floridians, Canadians

So far, Pasco’s tourism base: Floridians, Canadians

NEW PORT RICHEY – The typical tourist in Pasco County this year most likely is a Floridian.But there are lots of Canadians here as well. Nearly 80 percent drove, rather than flew, to the region. Forty percent stayed in hotels, but more than a quarter...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Girls hockey could replace boys lacrosse on Pasco tourism calendar

Girls hockey could replace boys lacrosse on Pasco tourism calendar

NEW PORT RICHEY – Hockey pucks could replace lacrosse balls as the required sports equipment for the holiday tourism season in Wesley Chapel.The Wickenheiser World Female Hockey Festival, founded by Canadian hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser, is seek...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Attorneys: Seminole Heights murder suspect might be mentally ill

Attorneys: Seminole Heights murder suspect might be mentally ill

TAMPA — Attorneys for the man accused of four Seminole Heights murders want a psychologist to determine if their client is mentally ill.The lawyers filed a formal request late Monday for a judge to appoint an expert to assess whether Howell Emanuel D...
Updated: 1 hour ago
There’s a five-year waiting list at the New Tampa rec center. That’s changing

There’s a five-year waiting list at the New Tampa rec center. That’s changing

For years, frustration mounted in New Tampa. As the population boomed, some residents say, services lagged.One sore point was the long waiting list for gymnastic and dance programs at the New Tampa Recreation Center in Tampa Palms. In recent years, k...
Updated: 1 hour ago