The man claims the dolphin was already dead when he found it. Experts say lifting a dolphin out of the water makes it hard for it to breathe.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — An Instagram photo of a man holding a baby dolphin up above the surface of the water caused a public outcry and led to investigations by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Now they say a dead dolphin pup found near Amelia Island and Nassau Sound matches the one in the photo.
According to reporting by News4Jax, the FWC’s report found a one-year-old, male dolphin pup dead in Nassau County which researchers agree matches the dolphin in the Instagram photo. They determined this by looking at the pup’s dorsal fin, which is unique for each individual dolphin.
“The shape matches the one in the photo where the dolphins being held…so highly likely,” said UNF Associate Professor Quincy Gibson in News4Jax’s report.
Although investigators can’t tell whether the dolphin was alive or dead when the Instagram photo was taken, marine science professors interviewed by WESH say the photo shows behavior that could very well have killed or at least seriously hurt it. Dolphins need buoyancy to breathe, so if they’re pulled out of water, their own body weight makes it difficult to draw breath.
“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,” said Gibson in WESH’s report.
The NOAA says it’s against the law to feed or harass dolphins in the wild. In fact, any interference with dolphins, even if they’re dead, violates the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Offenders could face civil penalties up to about $34,000 or criminal fines and up to a year in prison.
No one in the Instagram photo has been charged with a crime. The photo, which was originally shared on a surfing account, has since been deleted.
In an interview with WJAX, the man who posted the photo claimed he and his friends found the dolphin dead in the surf and checked to see if it was alive before taking the photo.
“Yes, I did pick it up out of the water. But that was me proclaiming that I caught it. And I did not catch it. We found the dolphin dead on the shore.”
The man also said that he didn’t know he had done something wrong until after he posted the photo on Instagram.