Officials are offering a reward of up to $ , 0 for information that leads to a civil penalty or criminal conviction in the cases. People can face up to $ 200, 05 0 in fines and up to one year in jail per violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act , which bans harassing, hunting, killing or feeding wild dolphins.
Biologists believe the recent deaths were the result of humans feeding the animals, which can learn to drop their guard around people. And at times, fishermen have been blamed for killing the animals in retaliation for taking their catch.
“When dolphins are fed, their behavior changes. They lose their natural wariness of people and boats, ”said Stacey Horstman, a bottlenose dolphin conservation coordinator at NOAA. “The best advice is not to feed them, not to reach out to them. The seemingly innocent act of feeding dolphins can lead to harm and something like this. ”
Ms. Horstman added, “This area of southwest Florida and in the panhandle are hot spots for illegal dolphin feedings.”
Since , at least 96 dolphins, including the recent two, have been stranded in the southeastern United States after they were shot by guns or arrows, or impaled with objects like screwdrivers and fishing spears. A Kansas man was recently fined $ 1, for feeding a dolphin while he was vacationing near Captiva Island, Fla., NOAA said, but many cases remain unresolved.