Last year, WDC received reports of dolphins being given poison-laced food from a fishing boat, but it could not substantiate the information. Another possible explanation, according to Vail, is that the dolphins have fallen victim to, "cruel and intentional victims of random vandalism by thoughtless individuals." The spate of shootings is eerily similar to the ongoing sea lion killings in San Diego, where several animals were found with gunshot injuries and had to be euthanized.
"Dolphins and sea lions are often scapegoated as competitors with fisheries, and they pay the price either through deliberate culling or intentional removal through other means," Vail said. Vail praised federal officials for trying to combat the problem. "NOAA is doing all it can, and is taking this very seriously," she said. "They are alarmed at what appears to be a growing trend towards dolphin abuse and vandalism in this specific area." Government officials, and groups such as WDC, are urging members of the public to report any incident of harassment or killing of marine mammals at sea. Boaters who feed wild dolphins, also a violation of the Act, are likely contributing to the killings, however unwittingly. "Dolphins that are fed by people learn to associate people with food and put themselves in dangerous situations when they approach people, boats, and fishing gear looking for food," NOAA said in the press release. "These behaviors have resulted in an increase in human violence towards dolphins, including retaliation by fishermen." WDC, in a written statement, concurred with the government's assessment. "Unfortunately, the byproduct of dolphin habituation to human interaction in the region, including activities to swim with or feed these animals, is resulting in closer proximity and access to wild dolphins," the group said. The shootings, sadly, are just part of the dangers that marine mammals in the Gulf must confront. "Dolphins in the region continue to face impacts from the Gulf oil spill, fishing gear entanglements and habitat loss," WDC said. "WDC is disheartened that they are also subjected to these brutal attacks."
The NOAA Enforcement Hotline is 1-800-853-1964, and tips may be left anonymously.