Gulf Coast Dolphin Killings: Expert calls animals "easy targets"

(CBS) Federal officials and scientists are still looking for answers after a several dolphins have washed ashore in the past few months along the Gulf Coast with bullet wounds, missing jaws and cut off fins.

"Whoever did this is pretty deranged," said Dr. Moby Solangi, the executive director of Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Miss. "It's very, very sad.

So far, five dolphins have reportedly been found shot in Louisiana and Mississippi, two in 2011 and three this year - the most recent just last week. Over the summer, one dolphin was found dead in Alabama with a screwdriver stuck in its head, according to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society. Also in Alabama, another dolphin was found alive, but with its tail cut off. Other dolphins in the Gulf Coast area were missing fins or had cuts on their bodies, The Associated Press reports.

Solangi, whose organization is conducting autopsies on the animals, says dolphins are "easy targets" because they are inquisitive animals that often swim close to boats. His organization is hoping public awareness of the incidents will lead to tips in the case.

"These people, the kind of people who do this, like to brag," Solangi said, comparing potential dolphin assailants to serial killers targeting humans. "Sooner or later they will talk and someone will hear something."

Solangi says it is not unheard of for dolphins to be shot or killed by humans, but that the sudden frequency of the deaths and the mutilations is unusual.

Erin Fougeres, a marine mammal scientist for National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, told The Associated Press that while some of the dolphin deaths are "obviously intentional", she doesn't believe they're being targeted by a gang of people, or even by an individual.

"The cases are fairly spread apart," she said. "I don't think there is one dolphin murderer out there."

Fougeres theorizes that some of the dolphin mutilations might have happened after the animal died from natural causes and washed ashore, The Associated Press reports. She also reportedly said that the increase in cases might be due to NOAA's network becoming better trained to notice cruelty cases or unusual deaths.

More on CrimesiderNovember 19, 2012 - Dolphins found shot, slashed and stabbed with tool in Gulf of Mexico