Gulf Coast Dolphins Are the Targets of Mutilation and No One Knows Why

Dolphins with gruesome injuries are washing up on beaches as the feds begin investigating.
The hunt is on for the perpetrators of a string of dolphin mutilations in the Gulf states. (Photo: Jeff Rotman/Getty Images)
Nov 25, 2012· 1 MIN READ
A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades has previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and a medical writer.

Dolphins may arguably be among the most maligned animals on Earth, despite also being one of our most gentle. Frequently exploited for war, entertainment and business, the docile creatures are now the target of inexplicable violence in the Gulf of Mexico for reasons that remain a mystery.

The New York Times reports that since this summer, as many as six dolphins have washed ashore in the Gulf states, all victims of gruesome attacks: One dolphin found on a beach along the Alabama-Florida border was stabbed in the head with a screwdriver. Another off the coast of Louisiana had been shot, the bullet still lodged in his lung. Others had fins cut off, and one in particular washed up with his entire lower jaw bone missing. All six were found dead.

Moby Solangi, the director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Mississippi, told Reuters, "In my 30-plus years in this business, I've never seen anything so heartbreaking, cruel and senseless."

In response, a federal agent has been assigned the case and a $30,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrator(s), which begs the question, “Who’s disturbed enough to do this?” The scary answer is that there is no evidence yet determining if all attacks are the work of the same person (or people), or simply a grouping of otherwise unconnected incidents.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said this week they're asking everyone on the beaches and in the water to be on the lookout for injured or dead dolphins, as well as any unusual interaction between the mammals and people. The agency characterizes the creatures as “easy targets” because of their docile and inquisitive temperaments, and their habits of routinely following fishing vessels while staying in close proximity.

Erin Fougeres, a marine mammal scientist for National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration told the Associated Press that the attacks do appear intentional in nature, but they could have happened post-mortem, meaning there’s a chance the dolphins didn’t suffer before they died. (Still, cold comfort.) Fougeres said a necropsy would need to be done in order to determine when the dolphins sustained their injuries, but in the case of the mammal that was missing its jaw, she suspects that particular injury was sustained post-mortem by someone trying to collect a “souvenir.”

CNN reports that in the United States, dolphins’ lives are some of those protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which carries fines of up to $20,000 and a year in jail if a person is found guilty of killing a sea mammal.

Despite that law, the U.S. continues to exploit dolphins for dangerous military operations, marine parks still abuse them as a means of entertainment, and still more are killed from our environmental abuses, such as super-trawler nets and catastrophic oil spills. So as chilling as these latest attacks may be, they seem to reflect our global culture, which has normalized the act of treating sea life as “less than” instead of “equal to.”

Is your suspicion that these acts are unrelated, or do you think it could be the result of one person?