A $2,500 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest of whoever shot a whale at sea, leaving it to wander the ocean in agony for a month or more, slowly starving to death until it washed up on a New Jersey beach last month.
The Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust offered the reward Thursday, a day after the Sept. 24 death of the whale became widely publicized. It washed up on a beach in Allenhurst, just north of Asbury Park, and died shortly after police responded.
A necropsy showed the short-finned pilot whale had been shot in the head. The bullet lodged in the animal's jaw, causing an infection that left it unable to eat.
It weighed 740 pounds at its death, but should have tipped the scales at well over 1,000 pounds.
"The appallingly callous action of the person or persons responsible for this crime caused this animal to suffer immensely and die a slow death," said Kathy Schatzmann, the Humane Society's New Jersey director.
Whales are protected by the federal marine Mammal Protection Act. The whale's killer could get up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.
The wound near its blow hole had closed and faded somewhat, indicating the animal had been wounded as long as a month ago, said Bob Schoelkopf, co-director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine.
Schoelkopf said the whale could have been shot anywhere on the East Coast, given the amount of time that it spent losing weight before dying.
The Humane Society said thousands of poachers are arrested nationwide each year, but estimated that only 1 to 5 percent of all poached animals ever come to the attention of law enforcement.
Anyone with information in the whale shooting case is asked to call Matthew Gilmore, a special agent with the National Oceanographic and Oceanic Administration at (732) 280-6490, or the agency's national hotline at 1-800-853-1964.
The whales travel in large groups of 25 to 50 animals, feeding primarily on squid, octopus and fish. According to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, there are about 31,000 pilot whales, both long and short-finned, in the western North Atlantic Ocean.
There are an additional 300 or so off the West Coast of the United States, about 8,800 in Hawaii, and 2,400 in the northern Gulf of Mexico.