The hunt is on for the person who shot a female bottle-nose dolphin that washed ashore in Port Elizabeth this week.
Police are investigating the killing after the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) opened a criminal case this week.
Marine biologist Frikkie van der Vyver discovered the dolphin’s carcass on Wednesday at Maitland Beach after receiving a call about a seal in the area.
“After a quick inspection of the dolphin we found what looked like a bullet hole in the left flank.
We transported it to our lab and after dissecting it we found a bullet lodged in the rib bone.
It had pierced both lungs,” he said. Van der Vyver said Isabel Callealta, a PhD student who conducted the necropsy and health assessment, had determined the gunshot wound had caused the dolphin’s death.
“It was definitely alive when it was shot. It was a mature dolphin that was lactating so it had had a calf recently,” he said.
He said a number of dolphin and seal carcasses had been found along the Port Elizabeth coastline, some with bullets still lodged in their bodies.
“We have also heard reports from people in the Seaview or Beachview areas who say they hear gunshots coming from vessels out at sea.”
He said this year they had found two Cape fur seals with bullets still lodged in their bodies.
“In other carcasses it appeared as if bullets had passed through, but it is difficult to prove as some are already rotting when they are found.”
Regarding the latest incident, Van der Vyver cited two possibilities.
“Fishermen have in the past shot at marine animals as some say dolphins or seals interfere with their catches by trying to catch their squid or fish. However, it is extremely difficult to prove.”
He said another possibility was that the dolphin had washed up ashore and a member of the public had decided to shoot it instead of attempting to return it to sea.
Callealta said: “We do not know exactly how long ago it had the calf, but we estimate it to be around four to six months ago.”
She said the calf would have a slim chance of survival as it had still been feeding from its mother and would not have been exclusively eating fish.
Police spokeswoman Captain Sandra Janse van Rensburg confirmed the case had been opened and an investigation was under way.
DAFF chief compliance inspector Dennis Mostert said he had opened a criminal case after receiving the initial report from Van der Vyver.
“We will have to see what comes out of the police investigation. However, it will be difficult to prosecute as we will need a reliable witness to come forward who is prepared to make an af fidavit,” he said.
Mostert also referred to gunshots being heard coming from vessels offshore in the Blue Horizon Bay and Seaview areas.
“One woman in that area said she heard the shooting coming from a brightly lit vessel. The squid industry are the only vessels that use bright lights while fishing. However, the compliance levels in the squid industry are very good.”
“We have no proof that this sector, or any fishing sector, is responsible . ”
He said fishermen were entitled to carry firearms on board vessels.
“Perhaps the solution would be to prohibit the carrying of these firearms on board. However, it would be difficult to enforce.”
SA Squid Management Industrial Association chairman Dino Moodley said he was shocked to discover the industry was suspected of involvement in the shooting of marine mammals.
“We are a well-regulated and compliant industry and this is the first I have heard of this. While I can’t say our industry is definitely not involved, there are other industries that could possibly be responsible, such as the hake trawling industry or the long line industry,” he said.
Moodley said fishermen found to be involved in the shooting of dolphins or seals should be immediately prosecuted. “We give a clear direction to all our skippers not to harm any marine mammals,” he said.