In response to a series of sea lion shootings this year that have left three of the marine animals dead, an agency of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is offering a $2,500 reward to help find those responsible.
The NOAA Fisheries Service has offered the reward in addition to a $5,000 reward offered by the Marine Animal Rescue organization for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for shooting sea lions in Santa Monica Bay.
Since December, five sea lions have been found shot on beaches between Malibu and Dockweiler State Beach in Playa del Rey, said Ho Truong, a spokesman for NOAA Fisheries Service. Two of the sea lions have survived, with one listed in critical condition, he said.
In one of the most recent shootings, an eight-month-old sea lion pup was rescued by Marine Animal Rescue on February 3rd at Dockweiler Beach. At least one bullet penetrated the pup’s spine, paralyzing the marine animal, which had to be euthanized, said Peter Wallerstein, founding director of the rescue group.
“It’s disappointing, and it’s frustrating that (the suspects) have not been caught,” Wallerstein said of the incidents.
“To see something like this, it motivates us to do whatever we can to keep going and to find out who’s doing this. We won’t rest until we do.”
NOAA Fisheries Service officials said special agents are seeking information about the shootings, which are a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
“It’s a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act to harass or kill sea lions or any marine mammal,” said Donald Masters, special agent in charge with the NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement’s Southwest Division.
The person or persons who committed the crimes can face a civil penalty of up to $12,000, or a criminal fine of up to $20,000 and jail time, Masters said.
Truong said NOAA has offered the $2,500 reward in addition to Marine Animal Rescue’s reward to encourage witnesses to come forward.
“This is something we’ve done in the past and because of the latest rash of killings we thought it was important to get the word out to the public,” Truong said. “We need the public’s help.”
Truong said the number of reported sea lion shootings in Santa Monica Bay in such a short time span is unusual. In each case, a sea lion has washed up on the beach and been found with a bullet hole, he said.
NOAA is investigating the incidents with assistance from the California Department of Fish and Game and local law enforcement agencies. Investigators have not yet identified a suspect in the shootings.
Wallerstein has said that some fishermen feel that seals, sea lions and pelicans are a threat to their livelihoods and will purposely injure or kill the animals. He says he is hopeful that the rewards offered will influence witnesses to come forward and he is confident that those responsible will be apprehended.
Anyone with information regarding these incidents is encouraged to contact NOAA Office of Law Enforcement at (562) 980-4050, or the NOAA 24-hour hotline at (800) 853-1964.