A dolphin seen hoisted from the water in a picture posted on Instagram is believed to have died, according to two people involved.
The photo has sparked backlash and an investigation by FWC and NOAA. News4JAX blurred the faces of the two people in the photo as they are not charged with a crime.
The photo appears to have been taken under the bridge that crosses the Nassau Sound, which is the same area a dolphin calf was found dead Wednesday, according to an FWC report shared with Dr. Quincy Gibson, who is an associate professor of coastal and marine biology at UNF
She said FWC investigators believe the dead dolphin is the same one seen in the photo posted online. A spokesperson for FWC referred News4JAX to NOAA for comment, which is the lead agency on the investigation.
Two marine biologists said it’s hard to tell whether the dolphin was alive when the photo was taken just by looking at the image, but if the dolphin was dead, it wouldn’t have been for long.
Dr. Quincy Gibson/ Associate Professor of coastal and marine biology, UNF
“When a dolphin does strand or is floating in the water deceased, it degrades really rapidly,” Dr. Gibson said.
Dr. Gibson tracks dolphins in the St. Johns River with University of North Florida’s dolphin research program. She said FWC alerts her when a dolphin is found dead.
Dr. Gibson says that happened Wednesday, when what appeared to be one-year male calf was reported dead by a biologist in Nassau County. The report says the dead dolphin was found in the same area the photo was posted.
Included in the report is a photo of a dolphin, seen bloated and bleeding around its mouth, which Dr. Gibson says is part of the decomposition process.
When asked what the odds are that the dead dolphin is the same dolphin from the photo, she said, “From what I’ve heard, everyone [at FWC] seems to be in agreement that it is.”
She says you can tell by the dorsal fin because each one is unique.
“The shape matches the one in the photo where the dolphins being held…so highly likely,” she said.
Amid social media backlash after the photo was posted Thursday, the person in the photo has posted, multiple times, it ”was an accident,” at one point saying, “what ever once in a lifetime to a catch a dolphin as bycatch from the shore,” according to a screenshot shared by Kevin Beaugrand, who reported the photo to wildlife agencies.
“I think it’s highly likely that it died after [the photo was taken], but there is a very small chance that it was deceased recently, when they picked it up in the water,” Dr. Gibson said. “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.”
Experts say removing dolphins from the buoyancy of the water result in them being crushed by the weight of their own bodies.
Experienced fishermen like Anthony Walker say they thought people knew not to mess with dolphins.
“When you break the law, you’ve got consequences,” Walker said. “That what the law made for.”
It’s against the federal Marina Mammal Protection Act to interfere with dolphins, even if they’re dead, Dr. Gibson says.
She also says there weren’t any visible signs of trauma on the dead calf, but it’s possible there could have been blunt force trauma.
She says at one year old that calf would have still been nursing.
News4JAX have been trying to get in touch with the person in the photo but we have not yet heard back.