Updated Friday, November 23, 2012 at 12:16 AM
ATLANTA — An investigation into the mysterious killing of dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico is gaining momentum, with a federal agent now in charge of the case and a $30,000 reward for catching the killer or killers.
Since summer, six dead dolphins have washed ashore with bullet wounds, severed fins and jaws, and stab wounds.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has called on fishermen and beachgoers to report any dead or injured dolphins. Forensic experts at the agency are testing the slugs removed from the animals to see if they came from the same gun.
More than 700 dolphins have been found dead of various causes in the Gulf since February 2010. But scientists say deliberate, violent deaths are rare.
Rewards for clues that lead to an arrest have been offered by the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Miss., the Animal Legal Defense Fund and Paul Watson, an early member of Greenpeace and an Animal Planet host. "I regard the killing of a dolphin as murder, and what we appear to have on the Gulf Coast is a dolphin serial killer," Watson said.
Under the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act, killing a dolphin is punishable by a fine of up to $100,000 and a year in jail.