The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is asking the public to come forward with any knowledge about a sick dolphin stranded on a Texas beach that died from drowning after being harassed by a crowd of people.
NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement is offering a reward of up to $20,000 for information on the April 10 incident, and tips can be anonymous.
"Video stills obtained during the event could help identify individuals who have direct information concerning this event," the agency said. "If anyone can identify the individuals depicted in the photographs, NOAA encourages you to contact NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement Hotline at (800) 853-1964."
The Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network posted on Facebook that a female dolphin was found stranded, but alive, on Quintana Beach in Texas. 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.
A necropsy, which is a non-human autopsy, has since revealed that the dolphin died from drowning, NOAA said.