By Matt Weiss
Prompted by reports and allegations from eyewitness accounts, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has opened a criminal investigation into the illegal poaching of dolphins in Guam’s coastal waters. NOAA is looking for persons aboard a small boat off Guam’s southwestern coast, who were spotted harpooning dolphins last weekend. NOAA Special Agent Charles Raterman stated: “It is illegal under the Marine Mammal Protection Act to harass or take, hunt, capture, collect or kill dolphins, or attempt to do so.”
With interviews not yet conducted, Raterman stressed there is still an ongoing investigation on the case and he could not share information at this time.
In a plea for public help, Raterman said: “If anybody has any information of any poaching of dolphins in the southwest part of Guam, please contact NOAA office of law enforcement, Special Agent Raterman at (671) 472-7200. I would be happy to speak with them.”
While NOAA has ultimate jurisdiction over this investigation, Raterman said he will also be working with the Guam Division of Aquatic and Wildlife Resources.
When asked about criminal charges associated with dolphin poaching, Raterman, citing the Marine Mammal Protection Act, said: “Any person who knowingly violates any provision of the subchapter or any permit or regulation shall be, upon conviction, fined not more than $20,000 for each violation and imprisoned for not more than one year.”
Charged with a mandate of not only seeking punishment and levying fines but also educating the public, Raterman concluded: “NOAA wants to work with communities. We’re not looking just to punish people but we would like to help people, educate them and do further outreach to assist in this matter.”
For her part, University of Guam Marine Lab Director Dr. Laurie Raymundo commented: “I am personally appalled by this shortsighted and careless incident. It reflects a lack of respect for laws that are designed to protect these animals and for Guam’s natural resources. People on Guam derive a huge amount of satisfaction and enjoyment from having dolphins in our coastal waters that we can interact with in harmony.