A US man is at the centre of a storm after holding a baby dolphin out of the water for a selfie photograph, allegedly leading to its death.
The photo shows the young marine mammal being held up for the camera by one man, while his mate makes an obscene gesture.
The unnamed 19-year-old Florida man holding the dolphin shared the photo to social media, initially claiming that the animal was “bycatch”.
Sharing the photo brought the young man swift condemnation and saw at least two investigations launched – and that was before the animal washed up dead.
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“It’s a crime against nature,” Jacksonville Beach local Kevin Beaugrand, who raised the alarm after seeing the photo, told News4JAX.
The keen surfer said he was “immediately enraged” when he saw the photo, which was later deleted.
A dead baby dolphin with matching markings was found washed up in the same area where the photo was taken.
A report on the incident by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission was made available to Dr Quincy Gibson, an associate professor of coastal and marine biology at the University of North Florida.
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Gibson told News4JAX that the report, which contained a photo of the dead 1-year-old calf, showed that the unique dorsal fin pattern on the dead animal matched the one on the animal hoisted up for the selfie photo.
She said she believed it was “highly likely” that the dolphin died after it was taken from the water but said there was a “very small” chance it was dead before it was posed with.
“But based off of the reports that I’ve heard, and the photo and the way that the people are behaving in the photo, it makes it seem like they did catch it…and it was potentially alive at that point,” Gibson said.
She said that, at that age, the dolphin calf would still be nursing.
Responding to the outrage, the man who posted the photo said the animal was “bycatch”.
“Man what ever,” he wrote. “Once in a lifetime to catch a dolphin as bycatch from the shore.”
He has since received death threats and told News4JAX that the animal was already dead.
“We tried to see if it was still alive, or if we could revive it,” he said, adding: “There was nothing we could do.”
He is yet to be charged but potentially faces charges under the USA’s Marine Mammal Protection Act, which forbids interfering with wild dolphins – even if they are dead.