The national nonprofit Animal Legal Defense Fund announced Monday it is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone involved with the shootings and slashings of dolphins in the Northern Gulf.
Megan Backus, spokeswoman for ALDF, said people have a special affinity for dolphins because of their extreme intelligence and gentle nature. The group offered a similar reward recently when a horse was shot in California.
"Yes, we did receive some tips." she said.
Since the Sun Herald reported Friday that someone is killing and maiming dolphins in the Northern Gulf of Mexico, newspapers, radio and television stations and websites across the country and internationally have carried the story.
"I've never seen a response like this. Everybody's horrified," said Moby Solangi, executive director with the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport.
Last week staff from IMMS was called to Ship Island, where a dolphin was found dead with part of its lower jaw cut away. The previous weekend they investigated a dolphin killed with a 9mm gun. Other dolphins were found dead in the waters from Louisiana to Alabama after being shot, stabbed with a screwdriver and with their tail cut off.
The attacks prompted the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last week to issue a directive to enforcement and environmental agencies to be on "heightened awareness" for the person or persons killing the dolphins.
"The individuals responsible for these attacks pose a serious threat to our communities," said Stephen Wells, ALDF executive director. "Anyone capable of such brazen cruelty is a menace not only to marine mammals, but also to humans, It is well-established that abusers repeat violent crimes against helpless animals, and often go on to victimize people as well."
Anyone with information about the attacks can call ALDF at 707-795-2533, extension 1010. Information will be held in confidence.
Solangi said local law enforcement agencies are working together across the Gulf Coast to find leads.
"People start talking. Somebody will find something," he said.
"I don't know who to suspect ... I was really sickened when I read about it," Tom Becker, of T&D Charters out in Biloxi and head of the Mississippi Charter Boat Captains Association, told the Associated Press. Becker said he's never had a problem with dolphins.
He said the mammals tend to swim behind his boat until a fish too small to keep is tossed over the side.
Erin Fougeres, a marine mammal scientist for NOAA's southeast office in St. Petersburg, Fla. , said there have been some "obviously intentional cases" of cruelty to dolphins.
Fougeres said she doesn't think the dolphins are being targeted by a gang of people or even by a lone, sick individual.
"The cases are fairly spread apart," she said. "I don't think there is one dolphin murderer out there."
Associated Press, contributed to this article.