Since December 1, eight California sea lions have washed up on the shores of Puget Sound. Seven of the deceased marine mammals contained bullet fragments. On average about five to ten are shot locally each year, though they are protected animals, so eight deaths in two months is a serious spike. NOAA is investigating the situation, and they have a hotline for the public to phone in tips:
A $10,000 reward has also been offered by the Sea Shepard Society.
“This is a violation of U.S. Federal law and the person or persons responsible for these shootings must be apprehended and brought to justice,” said Captain Paul Watson. (Source: Sea Shepard Society)
Some fisherman continually express frustration with the sea lions taking fish they want and even becoming entangled in their nets, so they are often considered the first suspects when there is a spike in sea lion deaths, but in 2008 a suspicious increase turned out to be from heat stroke.
In this most recent case, bullet fragments within the animals clearly indicate human involvement. The fragments are being analyzed to see if it is possible they all came from the same gun.
There have been examples of sea lion attacks from the fishing industry in recent years, such as in 2010 a California fisherman was convicted of shooting a sea lion and was sentenced to thirty days in jail and a $50,000 fine. A year later a San Diego fisherman admitted to having shot a sea lion.
Image Credit: David Crosby