FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla. — A nursing mother dolphin found impaled through the head was in a begging position when she was wounded, say federal agents seeking clues to her death.

The injury, above her right eye, likely killed her, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration release.

Begging is not a natural behavior for dolphins and is often associated with illegal feeding. Dolphins fed by people learn to associate people, boats, and fishing gear with food, which puts them in harm’s way.

The dolphin was found on the Gulf side of south Fort Myers Beach after someone called in a report of a carcass on the shore, said marine mammal biologist Denise Boyd with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which partners with NOAA.

Warning: Graphic image below. 

Boyd’s post mortem exam showed she was pierced in the head with a spear-like object while still alive.

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“What kind of an evil monster would do that?” asked Monica Lynn, a Fort Myers Beach-area citizen scientist and dolphin advocate who’s logged countless hours on the water observing the pods near Fort Myers Beach. “Is there some serial dolphin killer out there?”

It’s hard to know why people harm dolphins, said NOAA spokeswoman Allison Garrett. “We know that sometimes people get frustrated by dolphins interfering with their fishing activities and harm dolphins out of retaliation. In rare cases people harm dolphins for no specific reason.”

This is the most recent in a series of violent assaults on Gulf of Mexico dolphins, officials say. Since 2002, at least 27 dolphins have been found with evidence of being blasted with guns, shot by arrows or impaled with sharp objects.

Harassing, harming, killing or feeding wild dolphins is prohibited under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act. Violations can be prosecuted civilly or criminally and are punishable by up to $100,000 in fines and up to a year in jail per violation.

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