The C.A.S.H. Courier Newsletter
Dolphin Killings in the Gulf of Mexico
By E.M. Fay
Dolphins are under more stress than ever before.
These intelligent, gentle creatures – known for their empathy and for having
saved drowning humans and dogs – are being persecuted in many ways and on a
large scale. The mass slaughter of dolphins in Japan, as exposed in
the Academy-Award-winning film, The Cove, is a well-known case in point, but
there have been other threats to the highly evolved marine mammals.
There is a strange dichotomy regarding humans’ relationship with dolphins.
On one hand, we are fond of them. From the early television series
“Flipper” – which brought widespread attention to dolphins, including the
perpetuation of some false perceptions – to aquatic theme parks around the
globe that feature performing dolphins, several generations of children and
their parents have “oohed” and “aahed” at the antics of the clever,
versatile swimmers. Scientists have studied their speech patterns,
sonar-controlled navigational ability, and family life, and pronounced them
among the most intelligent beings on earth.
other hand, no consideration for dolphin safety is shown by the
fishing fleets of the world, as their gigantic nets, meant for catching
tuna, cod, and other edible fish, have trapped and killed countless dolphins
over the past few decades. When this problem was brought to the
attention of fish-processing corporations, some attempted to appease public
opinion by asserting that they are more careful in their netting operations
now, adding a symbol to cans of tuna that promises no dolphins were harmed;
but this is a dubious reassurance, at best. Public relations
exercises, like advertising, should not be taken at face value.
Another longstanding threat to dolphins is the continued
dumping of toxic chemicals into the oceans. Pollution of the seas has
been a mounting concern since well before the first Earth Day in 1970.
Nowadays, there are also huge mountains of manmade debris in the ocean,
floating “islands” of plastic refuse that ensnare wildlife.
this the insatiable demand by the burgeoning human population of the planet
for “seafood,” which is wiping out fish stocks in every ocean. Overfishing
is causing starvation amongst many ocean-dependent species, including
pelicans, seals, polar bears, whales, and dolphins.
Competition between humans and other animals for fish has been known to
provoke violent reactions. Fishermen in the Pacific Northwest have
admitted to shooting seals who were simply seeking sustenance. In
North Carolina and elsewhere, pelicans have been killed and mutilated,
possibly because they were competing with humans for scarce fish supplies.
And there is reason to believe that the recent brutal murders of dolphins in
the Gulf of Mexico may be related to their consumption of food that humans
want for themselves. Whether this is the motivation or not, the
dolphin killings have shocked and dismayed wildlife advocates, law
enforcement officials, and the general public alike.
A number of
dolphin corpses have washed up on the coast between Louisiana and Florida, shot
to death and in some cases horribly mutilated, including one animal’s jaw
having been cut off, probably post-mortem. The heartlessness of the slayings
was commented upon by the lead biologist at the Institute of Marine Mammal
Studies in Gulfport, Miss.
Calling the murders “senseless,” and
“repugnant,” the biologist stressed the importance of finding whoever is
responsible for them before the birthing season begins in the Gulf, when
newborn dolphins and their mothers will be most vulnerable.
The illegality of the killing is undisputed: the Marine Mammal Protection
Act authorizes a sentence of one year in prison and a fine up to $100,000
for anyone convicted of killing dolphins.
Wildlife Watch spoke
with the gentleman in charge of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration investigation into the crimes, Deputy Special Agent in Charge
Jeff Radonski, of NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement. He works in the
Southeast Division, a vast area that stretches from the Texas-Mexico border
to the North Carolina-Virginia border and into the Caribbean.
Special Agent Radonski noted the practical difficulties inherent in
searching for any perpetrator along the lengthy coastline and into open
“This is an ongoing case,” Radonski said. “NOAA
has many people active on it, but this is a difficult type of investigation,
and we are highly dependent on the public to supply us with information.
“Unlike when human beings are killed, with wildlife we aren’t able to go
through their life histories for clues. We need to have witnesses come
forward. We need public input.”
Although he acknowledged the terrible
nature of the killings, Radonski was concerned that some news outlets
sensationalize the story in a way that does not help NOAA’s efforts. “We
don’t have reason to believe this is the work of one person.”
reliable way to know the motivation behind the dolphin killings, a certain
amount of guesswork is necessary. There are a lot more people in the
gulf doing scientific research since the BP disaster.
“One of our
theories is based on what scientists have seen in the area. Dolphin
feeding by humans is prevalent. People are giving them inappropriate,
unhealthy food, such as potato chips. It’s a crime to feed wild dolphins.
They are not doing them any favor, just the opposite. They are
getting them accustomed to people and putting them in more danger.
“When dolphins get too familiar with people, they often come in
close to boats and may get hit by the props. Dolphins who lose their
fear of people don’t keep a safe distance, and often interfere with fishing
boats, as well.”
In a couple of cases in the past, charter fishing
boat captains have been convicted of shooting at dolphins that approached
their boats, or tried to take fish from passengers.
understand that a wild dolphin is a very powerful animal,” Radonski said.
“They have ended up getting into boats and doing damage.”
regularly looks into criminal deaths of marine mammals; some animals are
covered under the Endangered Species Act. We asked Radonski if he had
seen an increase in instances of wildlife killings.
“We had a case
several years ago where someone was using pipe bombs in the water.
It’s not a brand new problem, but it’s hard to say if it is increasing or
how much is just more reporting.”
NOAA agents’ enforcement
challenges include seafood fraud cases and illegal imports.
In the dolphin murders, whether it’s a case of deranged “thrill” killing,
competition for fish, or something else, if there is to be any chance of
finding and stopping the killer or killers, widespread public involvement is
Wildlife Watch joins Deputy Special Agent Radonski
in asking that if any member of the public has information, please call the
NOAA Law Enforcement Hotline, at 1-800-853-1964.
Marine Mammal Protection Act at
Don’t Feed Wild
E.M. Fay is the Assoc. Editor of the C.A.S.H. Courier and the Wildlife
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In Memory of Dr. Ahmed Halima
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