BRIGANTINE, N.J. (AP) — Federal wildlife officials are looking for whoever shot a whale at sea, leaving the animal to wander the ocean in agony for a month or more before it beached itself in New Jersey and died. The culprit could get a year in prison and a hefty fine.
Scott Doyle, an agent in charge of the National Marine Fisheries Service's New Jersey shore office, said his agency is hoping someone comes forward to report the shooter.
A Sept. 24, 2011 photo provided by the Marine Mammal Stranding Center shows a 740-pound pilot whale that died shortly after washing up on a beach in Allenhurst N.J. A necropsy showed the whale had been shot and died from an infection in its jaw that prevented it from eating. (AP Photo/Marine Mammal Stranding Center)
"Sometimes what we find is months down the road, you get a disgruntled crew member on a boat, or someone who had an argument with someone else, and then you get a phone call," Doyle said.
The nearly 11-foot-long short-finned pilot whale, which was near death, weighed about 740 pounds but should have tipped the scales at more than 1,000 pounds. It died shortly after police responded, but it wasn't until a necropsy was performed that the cause of death was revealed.
Someone had shot the whale.
The wound near its blow hole had closed and faded somewhat, indicating the animal had been wounded as long as a month ago, said Bob Schoelkopf, co-director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center. The bullet lodged in the whale's jaw, causing an infection that left it unable to eat.
"This poor animal literally starved to death," Schoelkopf said. "It was wandering around and slowly starving to death because of the infection. Who would do that to an innocent animal?"
That's what federal law enforcement authorities want to know, as well. Whales are among the species protected by the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act. Violators can be fined up to $100,000 and sent to prison for a year.
The whale washed up on the beach at Allenhurst, a small Monmouth County town just north of Asbury Park, on Sept. 24. READ MORE