A dolphin stranded on a Texas beach died after being harassed by a crowd of people who also tried to ride the animal, according to rescuers.
The Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network posted on Facebook that a female dolphin was found stranded, but alive, on Quintana Beach in Texas last Sunday. Beachgoers pushed the animal back into the sea, but it was further harassed by people who attempted to ride the sick animal.
She got stranded on the beach "and was further harassed by a crowd of people on the beach where she later died before rescuers could arrive on scene," the organization stated. "This type of harassment causes undue stress to wild dolphins, is dangerous for the people who interact with them, and is illegal - punishable by fines and jail time if convicted."
The Quintana Beach County Park, which responded on scene, called the incident a "tragedy."
"Park staff was called to assist in keeping the public away from the dolphin until rescuers could arrive from Galveston," it posted on Facebook. "Unfortunately it was a retrieval, not a rescue."
Heidi Whitehead, the executive director of the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network, told NPR over email that attempting to ride a beached dolphin is "thankfully not a common behavior that has been reported to us."
Whitehead said the organization sees people attempting to feed or swim with dolphins, chasing groups of the animals with boats or jet skis, or trying to pet them — all behaviors that are illegal. Violations of the Marine Mammal Protection Act can lead to civil penalties of up to $11,000 or up to one year in prison, in addition to other penalties.
She said the illegal acts disrupt the animals' natural behavior and can cause injury, entanglement or death of the dolphins, like in this most recent case.
The Quintana Beach County Park said the animal's body has since been taken for a necropsy to try to determine the reason it was stranded on the beach.