By Letitia Stein
TAMPA, Fla. (Reuters) - A dolphin was lethally shot by a hunting arrow in the northern Gulf of Mexico, the second violent killing of the protected animal in recent weeks, federal authorities said on Monday.
The dolphin, with a yellow-feathered arrow embedded in its side, washed ashore on Orange Beach, Alabama, over the weekend, according to a news release from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), whose law enforcement officers are investigating.
Preliminary results from a necropsy indicate that the dolphin may have survived with the arrow for at least five days before dying of an infection caused by the wound, NOAA said.
The agency also is investigating the death of a pregnant bottlenose dolphin found on Miramar Beach, Florida, last month after being shot in the lung.
The dolphin was within weeks of giving birth, according to a news release in that death.
Authorities are seeking additional information in both cases. Harming, harassing or feeding a wild dolphin is prohibited under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.
NOAA officials said they have seen a rise in violent killings of dolphins in the northern Gulf of Mexico, with at least 17 dolphins stranded, or beached in shallow water, with gunshot wounds since 2002. The majority of these deaths have occurred in the past four years.
People can help to protect dolphins by refraining from feeding them, which encourages them to approach dangerous situations, NOAA said, noting they will remove bait and catch directly from fishing gear. This can result in violent retaliation.
(Reporting by Letitia Stein; Editing by Sandra Maler)