Who’s Murdering And Mutilating These Dolphins? | Smart News | Smithsonian
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Who’s Murdering And Mutilating These Dolphins?

Along the southern coast of the United States a mystery is deepening: mutilated dolphins keep washing up on the beach, and no one knows where they're coming from

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Not one of the victims. Image: Bernard McManus

Along the southern coast of the United States a mystery is deepening: mutilated dolphins keep washing up on the beach, and no one knows where they’re coming from. The victims are clearly offed by humans: they have, as the Associated Press explains, “bullet wounds, missing jaws and hacked off fins.”

So far, five victims have been found shot in Louisiana and Mississippi. A dolphin in Alabama was found with a screwdriver stuck in its head; another’s tail was cut off but it managed to survive. Whoever is doing this is not only depraved, but also skirting some pretty big fines. A federal agent is in charge of the investigation: Killing a dolphin can land you in prison for a year and comes with a $10,000 fine per violation. And this population in the Gulf is already struggling after the oil spill. The AP writes:

The gruesome discoveries are heartbreaking for Gulf Coast scientists, who follow the population. Fougeres said that two months before the 2010 oil spill disaster off the coast of Louisiana, dolphins began stranding themselves and that there were unusually high mortality rates — possibly due to a cold winter that year.

Since then, the spill and another cold winter in 2011 have contributed to several deaths within the Gulf’s dolphin population, experts say. Investigators have also found discolored teeth and lung infections within some of the dead dolphins.

Groups like the Animal Legal Defense Fund are offering rewards that total in the tens of thousands of dollars for information that might lead to whoever mutilated the dolphins, but so far there have been no leads. Some of these injuries could have been sustained after the animals died and washed onto shore, which might explain the fins or jaws missing. And, it’s probably not one dolphin hater. The cases are spread across the Gulf Coast, and don’t have a common thread other than the species of the victim.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Under the Sea with Dolphins
Dolphins Go Hunting In Fishers’ Nets

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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