FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla. — Warning: Images included in the following story are graphic - discretion is advised.
NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement is asking the public for tips about a dead dolphin found in late March on Fort Myers Beach.
A necropsy revealed the dolphin was impaled in the head with a spear-like object while still alive.
NOAA and marine mammal experts received a report of a dead bottlenose dolphin on March 24. Fish and Wildlife Conservation officials were able to recover the animal.
A wound could be seen above the animal's right eye. The dolphin was described as "an adult lactating female."
NOAA law enforcement officials seek information from anyone who may have details of this incident. Please call the NOAA Enforcement Hotline at (800) 853-1964. Tips may be left anonymously.
NOAA says investigators suspect that the dolphin was impaled while in a "begging" position associated with illegal feeding.
Dolphins fed by people learn to associate people, boats, and fishing gear with food, which puts dolphins and people in harmful situations.
Since 2002, at least 27 dolphins (including this one), have been stranded with evidence of being shot by guns or arrows, or impaled with sharp objects.
Anyone found guilty in connection with this incident can be prosecuted and face up to $100,000 in fines and up to one year in jail per violation.
Ranger Rob was one of the FWC crew members who recovered that dolphin from the water. For him, the incident was heartbreaking but not surprising. He sees marine life every day when he goes out on San Carlos Bay.
"The dolphin groups around here, we have about twenty to thirty who stay around Estero Island. There's a good couple thousand between Naples and Punta Gorda that stay between twenty to thirty miles of where they're born," he says.
"It's absolutely horrendous. At first it enrages me, its like you want to find these people and bring them to justice."
Because there's so much water in our area, he says there's too little law enforcement, and it creates a feeling of what Rob calls "The Wild Southwest".
Laura Engleby with NOAA says that this sort of violence against dolphins happens more often than you think.
"Since about 2002, we've had about 27 cases that we know of, of intentional harm. Whether it be a dolphin being impaled, or shot, or bow and arrow, or pipe bombs…we've had all sorts of things of people intentionally hurting dolphins out of frustration or assuming," she says.
That frustration, Ranger Rob says, is mainly from fisherman. He says it's directed towards dolphins who often compete with them for fish.
"Dolphins start taking advantage of fishermen, fishermen get frustrated because it's affecting their job or livelihood, and they go to extreme measures where they openly hurt or kill the dolphins," explains Rob.
And much like a dog learning to beg for food, he says that dolphins learn to take food from humans, a habit he's very worried about.
"Dolphins, manatees, sea turtles, sharks…all these animals should not see us as a food source. And the only way they do is if they have learned to."