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Exclusive: Social media picture of young man illegally holding baby dolphin sparks controversy

NASSAU SOUND, Fla. — In an exclusive interview with Action News Jax reporter Annette Gutierrez, the 19-year-old man in the controversial image, who wished to remain anonymous, shed light on the circumstances that led to the photograph.

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The picture was posted on Instagram, Sunday. He said that morning, he was out fishing with friends in Nassau Sound when he noticed something unusual.

“We couldn’t tell what it was, but it was rolling around in the surf, like in the wash,” the angler told Action News Jax.

A closer look revealed it was a juvenile bottlenose dolphin.

“We tried to see if it was still alive, or if we could revive it,” the angler told Action News Jax. “There was nothing we could do.”

Then, the group snapped a picture holding the animal and posted it online.

While a lot of people commented on the post saying he reeled it in, the individual emphasized that he did not catch it.

He clarified, stating “Yes, I did pick it up out of the water. But that was me proclaiming that I caught it. And I did not catch it. We found the dolphin dead on the shore.”

The young man stated that he put the dolphin back where he found it, saying he didn’t realize he did something wrong until after he posted it on social media.

According to NOAA Fisheries, it is illegal to feed or harass wild marine mammals including dolphins.

It sparked major backlash online—which he says was blown out of proportion.

“There were definitely people sending me death threats on social media,” the angler said.

When Action News Jax asked him how he felt about that, he responded saying, “It made me a lot more aware of the situation, the seriousness of it.”

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Now, he wants to publicly apologize.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “And I didn’t mean to hurt anyone. And I did not hurt the dolphin. I wasn’t aware that I wasn’t supposed to touch it. And I would never do it again.”

Following the incident, the 19-year-old reached out to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, to inform them of what he did. NOAA said they will investigate and call him back Tuesday.

Action News Jax received an emailed statement from NOAA saying they can’t comment on the matter because the Office of Law Enforcement is “actively investigating this incident.”

The act of attempting to feed or harass wild dolphins is prohibited under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Violators can face fines of up to $100,000 and/or up to one year in jail for violators.

If you encounter injured or deceased marine animals, you can call the NOAA Fisheries hotline at (877) WHALE-HELP (877-942-5343).

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