A Florida teenager says he is receiving death threats after he plucked a baby dolphin out of the ocean for an Instagram photo — and the mammal later died.
The unidentified 19-year-old posted a photo online showing him smiling while hoisting a dolphin calf several feet out of the water on Amelia Island under the bridge that crosses the Nassau Sound. The young dolphin was found dead in the same area on Wednesday, News4Jax reported.
The social media post sparked outrage and prompted a probe from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Committee [FWC] and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Dr. Quincy Gibson, an associate professor of coastal and marine biology at UNF, reviewed FWC’s report on the incident and said investigators believe that the dead one–year–old dolphin recovered by wildlife officials is the same in the photo.
“From what I’ve heard, everyone [at FWC] seems to be in agreement that it is,” she said, noting that dolphins can be identified by their unique dorsal fins.
“The shape matches the one in the photo where the dolphin [is] being held…so highly likely,” Gibson added.
It’s not clear if the dolphin was alive or dead in the photo, but Gibson said if it was alive at the time, it would not have been for much longer.
A picture of the dolphin in the FWC report shows the animal bloated and bleeding from the mouth — which is part of the fish’s decomposition process, she said.
“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.”
The man who posted the image has defended himself from the backlash online, claiming it was an accident.
In response to one critic’s comment, he reportedly responded “what ever” adding it was a “once in a lifetime to catch a dolphin as bycatch from the shore,” according to a screenshot of the post shared by Kevin Beaugrand, who reported the photo to state officials.
“I was immediately enraged,” Beaugrand, a surfer, told News4JAX. He said saw the post on the surfing account Saturday.
“It’s a crime against nature,” he said.
In a brief statement to the outlet, he said: “We tried to see if it was still alive, or if we could revive it,” adding, “There was nothing we could do.”
The teen has since been receiving death threats, the Daily Mail reported.
He has not yet been charged with a crime, although it is illegal to interfere with wild dolphins — even if they are dead — under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
If prosecuted, violators of the Marine Mammal Protection Act could face civil penalties up to about $34,000 or criminal fines and up to a year in prison, according to News4Jax.