A reward of up to $20,000 is up for grabs in exchange for information leading to the identification, arrest, or conviction of Texas beachgoers accused of harassing and ultimately drowning a stranded dolphin. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced the reward following the April 10 episode at Quintana Beach near Freeport. Beachgoers who found the stranded adult female dolphin took it out to sea, pushed it underwater, attempted to swim with it, and put children on top of it "as if they were riding the dolphin," Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network executive director Heidi Whitehead tells the Washington Post.
"The most difficult part for me and my staff was just thinking about [the suffering] that animal no doubt endured in its last few minutes of life," Whitehead adds. A caller was told to direct beachgoers to bring the animal ashore so aid could be provided by rescuers, who would arrive about an hour later. But they ignored that advice, then disappeared. Rescuers arrived to find the dolphin dead. An autopsy found it had died from drowning, per KHOU. Whitehead hopes the public will now learn that a stranded dolphin should be given space and shade, but kept wet, until rescuers can respond.
She notes a stranded dolphin is often sick or hurt so pushing it into water is "not the right course of action," as drowning can occur. Meanwhile, the NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement notes video stills "could help identify individuals who have direct information concerning this event." A person convicted of harassing or harming a wild dolphin faces up to a year in jail or a fine of up to $100,000. (Read more beached dolphins stories.)