A bottlenose dolphin found on Fort Myers Beach, Fla, was impaled in the head with a spear-like object and apparently died from the wound, according to federal authorities.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Bureau of Law Enforcement appealed to the public for any information about the animal, reported on the beach March 24 and recovered by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

A necropsy on the animal – an adult lactating female, possibly a mother still nursing a calf – had been impaled above the right eye while alive.

“Based on the shape, size and characteristics of the wound, it is suspected that the dolphin was impaled while in a begging position,” according to a statement from the National Marine Fisheries Service Southeast regional office in St. Petersburg, Fla.

“Begging is not a natural behavior for dolphins and is frequently associated with illegal feeding,” according to the NMFS statement. “People can help prevent future harm to wild dolphins by not feeding or attempting to feed them. Dolphins fed by people learn to associate people, boats, and fishing gear with food, which puts dolphins and people in harmful situations.”

The agency asked anyone who may have details of this incident to call the Office of Law Enforcement hotline at (800) 853-1964. Tips may be left anonymously.

Harassing, harming, killing or feeding wild dolphins is prohibited under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act. Violators can be prosecuted with both civil or criminal charges, which are punishable by up to $100,000 in fines and up to 1 year in prison for each violation.

NMFS officials say violent incidents involving dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico are a continuing problem for the protected species. The Fort Myers Beach incident is at least the 27th case since 2002 when dolphins have been found stranded with evidence of gunshot or arrow wounds, or stabbed with sharp objects.

Have you listened to this article via the audio player above?

If so, send us your feedback around what we can do to improve this feature or further develop it. If not, check it out and let us know what you think via email or on social media.

Associate Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for more than 30 years and a 25-year field editor for National Fisherman before joining our Commercial Marine editorial staff in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.

Join the Conversation