NOAA Enforcement Seeks Tips About a Live Dolphin Impaled in Head

July 11, 2019

Reward offered for more information about the case

Dolphin with head wound Credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement and marine mammal experts received a report of a bottlenose dolphin found dead along Upper Captiva Island in Lee County, FL. NOAA's stranding network partner, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, recovered the animal at the end of May 2019. A necropsy, or non-human autopsy, revealed the dolphin was impaled in the head with a spear-like object while alive. 

Impaled Dolphin Close Up_2019_Photo credit FWC.jpg

Wound in dolphin's head
Credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

There was a wound penetrating from above and in front of the right eye, extending almost 6 inches toward the top and back of the head. 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.   

Impaled dolphin alive_2007 Credit CZS Sarasota Dolphin Research Program NMFS permit 522-1785.jpg

Dolphin seen alive in March 2007
Credit: Chicago Zoological Society's Sarasota Dolphin Research Program 
(NOAA permit 522-1785)

The animal was an adult male previously known to area biologists.  He was last observed swimming around fishing boats and was seen with "begging dolphins." The puncture wound indicates this dolphin might have been in a begging posture when he was stabbed. 

NOAA officials seek information from anyone who may have details of this incident. Please call the NOAA Enforcement Hotline as soon as possible at 1-800-853-1964. Tips may be left anonymously.

NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement and our agency partners, including Lightkeepers,the Humane Society of the United States, the Animal Welfare InstituteCet Law, legaSeas, Oceanic Preservation Societythe International Fund for Animal WelfareDolphins Plus Marine Mammal ResponderHunter College Director of the Animal Behavior and Conservation MA Programare offering combined rewards of up to $38,000 ($18,000 from our partners and up to $20,000 from NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement) for information leading to:

  1. the successful identification and/or

  2. successful prosecution for the person(s) responsible and/or

  3. an arrest, conviction or civil penalty assessment

Please include your name and contact information when calling enforcement to be eligible for the reward.

Violent incidents toward dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico continue. Since 2002, at least 26 dolphins (including this one), have stranded with evidence of being shot by guns or arrows, or impaled with objects.  

People can help prevent future harm to wild dolphins by not feeding or attempting to feed them. Not only is it illegal, dolphins fed by people learn to associate people, boats, and fishing gear with food, which puts dolphins and people in harmful situations.

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.

If you come across a dead or injured marine mammal please do not intervene, call trained responders at 1-877-WHALE HELP (877-942-5343)

Last updated by Southeast Regional Office on July 12, 2019