Suncoast experts in shock over Gulf dolphin deaths

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SARASOTA, Fla. - A bizarre story involving dead, mutilated dolphins washing up in Alabama and Louisiana has Suncoast experts in shock. Since June, dolphins in Northern Gulf waters have been found missing fins and jaws, and some, even appeared to have been shot to death.

Sadly, officials say incidents like these happen from time to time, but it’s the frequency with which they are happening since June that has animal lovers looking for answers.

"Obviously it’s very disturbing. We all care about these animals…that’s why we do what we do. So hearing about people doing such violent acts to them is really disturbing," says Gretchen Lovewell at Sarasota’s Mote Marine Laboratory.

Since June, a high number of dolphins have been found dead. But it’s the way they died that has officials raising the alarm. “A dolphin was observed swimming with a screwdriver protruding from its head, and it was found dead the next day. And then you know we had a dolphin that was found killed by a bullet on Elmer’s Island," says NOAA marine biologist Erin Fougeres.

At this point, there are no answers, only questions -- especially when it comes to who is behind these gruesome and illegal killings. “I wouldn’t say that’s any kind of organized attack on dolphins, or that it’s any one person. You know the incidents are fairly spread out and over a period of time," says Fougeres.

Some experts say fishermen upset with protective restrictions on dolphins could be to blame.

But whoever is responsible could be facing jail time if caught. "You can face jail time and thousands of dollars in fines for doing any kind acts, harassing dolphins, or doing any kind of violent acts against them," says Lovewell.

And while no dead dolphins have been found in our local waters, officials say disturbing acts like this have sadly happened here before. “I did a quick review of our records. We have had one dolphin from our local area that was shot several years ago, so it can happen anywhere," says Lovewell.

Again we want to stress this is not happening on the Suncoast, and officials say you can help make sure it doesn't. They say if you see any dolphins being harassed or harmed, you're asked to call law enforcement immediately.