Chuck Lawson was walking his dog at Joe’s Bayou in Destin last month around 4 p.m. when he came across a pile of dead cownose rays left to rot in the sun on the dock.
"There were about 15 to 20 animals, including baby cownose rays and pufferfish," Lawson said. "You go to all the lengths to keep the critters safe and then this happens. It’s sick."
Last week, Lawson posted the photos inside a private Facebook group for local fishermen and it’s been shared almost 2,000 times.
Lawson believes that the rays were shot by bowfishers. Others following the Facebook thread suggested they might have been dumped by a boat or caught in a net and then left on the dock.
Destin resident Shane Reynolds, who was the former host and producer of National Geographic’s show "Shane Untamed," was so angered by the photos that he organized a monetary reward for any information leading to the cownose killers.
The reward has reached $1,600 across several donors.
"I think it’s so infuriating," Reynolds said. "That area is literally my backyard and aside from it being completely wrong, it makes us look bad."
The killing and dumping of the rays were touted by many as senseless and wasteful.
"Cownose rays are harmless," Reynolds said. "You don’t really eat them."
Rebekah Nelson, spokesperson for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, said that they received reports of the incident and they were documented.
"Officials will be on the lookout in that area for any violations," Nelson said.
A second cownose ray dumping incident was reported by Timothy Mahar at Jewel Melvin Park located along the southern shoreline of Twin Lakes.
Mahar snapped a photo of a pile of dead rays and said that a pile of over 50 dead fish was just out of frame.
Mahar called the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and said they responded to the incident.
Michele Nicholson, spokesperson for the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, said that the incident at Joe’s Bayou was reported to the Sheriff’s Office.
"Extra OCSO patrols have been placed on the boat ramps and anyone caught will be trespassed per the city," Nicholson said.
In the dozens of comments left on the original Facebook thread, people questioned the legality of killing and then dumping the rays.
According to section 68B-2.002 of the Florida Administrative Code, "all persons catching or taking but not retaining for use any such marine organism shall immediately release such marine organism at the site of capture. No person may unnecessarily harm or destroy such an organism. No such organism may be placed or deposited on any bank, shore, beach, or other place out of the water."
As of now, the identity of the person or persons who killed and then dumped the cownose rays still remains a mystery.
"If nothing, we need to raise awareness that this kind of behavior is unacceptable," Reynolds said.