A sick dolphin that washed up alive on a Texas beach died after a crowd of people harassed the animal and tried to "ride" it, officials said.
The female dolphin was stranded on Sunday evening at Quintana Beach County Park, where it washed up from sea. According to the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network, which posted about the incident on Facebook, beach-goers found it and tried to push it back out to sea. Some reportedly "attempted to swim with and ride the sick animal."
Tragically, the dolphin returned to the beach where it was stranded and further harassed by a crowd of people. It died before rescuers could arrive to take care of it, officials said.
"This type of harassment causes undue stress to wild dolphins, is dangerous for the people who interact with them and is illegal — punishable by fines and jail time if convicted," the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network said.
Dolphins are a protected species under federal law and it is illegal to harass, feed, or disturb the animal in the wild. The National Marine Fisheries Service, also known as NOAA Fisheries, warns that human interactions with dolphins in the wild can be dangerous for its survival.
"Human interactions cause animals to lose their wariness of people and boats, leading to boat strikes, and entanglement in or ingestion of fishing gear," the agency explains.
In a separate incident, NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement says that a dead dolphin was recently found on Fort Myers Beach, Florida. Medical examiners believe the dolphin was impaled in the head with a spear-like object while alive and are seeking information about its death.
"Based on the shape, size and characteristics of the wound, it is suspected that the dolphin was impaled while in a begging position," NOAA said in a statement.
"Begging is not a natural behavior for dolphins and is frequently associated with illegal feeding. 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 said.
According to NOAA, since 2002 there have been at least 27 dolphins stranded on beaches with evidence of being shot by guns or arrows, or impaled with sharp objects.
"Harassing, harming, killing or feeding wild dolphins is prohibited under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Violations can be prosecuted civilly or criminally and are punishable by up to $100,000 in fines and up to 1 year in jail per violation," officials said.