The latest dolphin victim in a string of deaths was found dead yesterday in Fort Morgan, Ala, and brought to Northwest Florida today.
According to the first responders, the Alabama Marine Mammal Stranding Network, a fisherman in Fort Morgan, Ala., found the bottlenose dolphin Sunday with a severe head injury appeared to be caused by a gunshot wound.
After transporting the animal to the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge on Okaloosa Island on Monday, members of both the AMMSN and the ECWR assessed the wound before taking the body to a local veterinarian for x-rays and further research. Investigators on the scene were measuring the dolphin and the hole in its head, which looked to be about 4 inches across.
"We won't know for some time what exactly killed this animal," said Steve Shippee with the ECWR. Shippee told The Log that with only one wound on the animal and no bullet or pellets found yet, a definitive answer may take weeks or months.
The dolphin appeared to be relatively healthy otherwise — a full grown male, about 480 pounds, about eight and a half feet long — "in the prime of his life," according to Shippee.
Sources say there has been an unusually high mortality rate of bottlenose dolphins along the Gulf Coast since 2010. Shippee said there has been about 700 dolphin deaths since then. Typically, he said, they only see about 100 each year.
A handful of the deaths have involved mutilated dolphins missing appendages on beaches in Alabama and Louisiana. Some of the cases have been especially heinous, according to marine wildlife experts, who’ve seen everything from homemade pipe bombs, gunshot wounds, and screwdrivers stuck in the head of dolphins. Those cases have captured headlines nationwide.
If you encounter an injured or dead dolphin contact the ECWR at 850-650-1880 or the AMMSN at 877-WELL-HELP.