Sea lions, seal found shot to death in W. Seattle
Federal officials are investigating the deaths of at least four sea lions and a seal found shot to death in West Seattle.
Seattle Times staff reporter
The National Marine Fisheries Service is investigating the deaths of at least four sea lions and a seal that have been found shot on a beach in West Seattle over the past week.
One of the animals is a Steller's sea lion, which is protected under the Endangered Species Act. The incident was first reported on the West Seattle Blog.
"We get one or two of these incidents a year," said Brian Gorman, with the Fisheries Service. "It's very unusual to get multiple incidents."
Gorman said four sea lions and a harbor seal were found shot after the carcasses washed up on the beach. In addition, he said, residents say another sea lion appears to be weak and in distress in the water, but he doesn't know if it's related to the shootings.
A fifth California sea lion was also found dead on the beach, but biologists don't yet know whether it, too, was shot.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife performed a necropsy on the animals; some of the bullets have been removed and will be turned over to Fisheries Service investigators, said Gorman. He said all sea lions are protected under the Marine Mammals Act, but it's not illegal to shoot a sea lion if you believe your life is in danger. Further, Gorman said, some tribes have permits to kill California sea lions, but no shootings have been reported.
"I seriously doubt these shootings are legal," Gorman said. "This has become a law-enforcement investigation."
He acknowledged it may be hard to find the shooter, "but that doesn't prevent us from trying."
The shooter could face a $50,000 fine, Gorman said.
The initial report from the necropsy found all the animals, but one sea lion, died of gunshot wounds and had been dead for a week or two.
"One of the things we'll do is look at the bullets to see what kind of weapons they came from and whether it's the same weapon," Gorman said. "We're talking to residents to see if there are witnesses."
Gorman also said there are reports of up to nine more carcasses floating in the water, perhaps a week or two old.
The West Seattle-based Seal Sitters, a volunteer group formed to protect harbor seals in Puget Sound, said it is waiting for the necropsy report.
"While winter typically brings a fair amount of death to our shores, this volume seems unusual," the group said on its Web site. The group said the sea lions were 8 to 10 years old and seemed to have been in good health.
Gorman said the carcasses were towed into the sound and sunk as food for other sea life. As for the Steller's sea lion, it is listed as endangered because the western population of the animals, particularly in Alaska, has fallen by as much as 80 percent since the 1970s.
Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or email@example.com
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.