The corpse of a large adult male California sea lion – that had been shot in the head – was found on the beach below Eagle Landing Park in Burien’s Seahurst neighborhood on Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021.
According to Sealife Response, Rehab & Research (SR3) in Des Moines, the animal had been shot multiple times in the skull. It also had two gashes on its body.
“Sadly, gunshot sea lions and seals are very common this time of year, coinciding with the opening of salmon fishing,” Casey Mclean, SR3’s Executive Director and Veterinary Nurse told The B-Town Blog.
Mclean adds that every year officials are seeing an increasing number of gunshot cases like this.
She said that the adult male was in healthy body condition prior to its death.
“We took radiographs in the field and found multiple projectiles in the skull,” Mclean said.
Experts found two gashes on the body when they tied the animal up prior to doing radiographs. The other wounded areas were likely from natural decomposition and scavenging.
SHOOTING MARINE MAMMALS IS ILLEGAL
All marine mammals, including seals and sea lions, are federally protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), which means it is illegal to shoot seals or sea lions unless you are an Alaska Native and the take is for subsistence purposes (food or handicraft) and is not accomplished in a wasteful manner.
“The tribes are able to use lethal force but only after trying non-lethal and in very specific circumstances,” Mclean said.
Fishermen often view seals and sea lions as competition for the dwindling numbers of fish in Puget Sound, especially salmon.
“There is a misconception that their population numbers have exploded when in reality their numbers have remained steady since the early 2000s,” Mclean said. “The populations have recovered since their almost extinction in the 60s so to some it may seem that their populations have grown considerably since that time. Seals and sea lions eat over 60 species of fish and often those are species that eat salmon. They are an integral part of a very complex food web, and removing them will not solve the problem of declining salmon populations and could exacerbate it. We are losing salmon due to a myraid of issues from warming waters, habitat degradation, overfishing, pollution and dams.”
Illegal shooting of a seal or sea lion may result in:
- Paying civil penalties greater than $29,000 per count
- Spending up to a year in jail
- Paying criminal fines
- Forfeiture of your vessel
- Harming your fishery’s good reputation.
However, the State of Washington has some exemptions – there are now five times more Stellers sea lions in state waters compared to the 1970s. This increase poses a threat to salmon in Puget Sound since sea lions’ diet includes salmon, and they eat a lot. While a new law is now in effect allowing the killing of a limited number of sea lions along the Columbia River, it doesn’t apply to Puget Sound.
To report a marine mammal violation, call 1-800-853-1964. NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement provides live operator coverage 24-hours a day, 7 days a week.
Below are photos and video from the scene, courtesy nearby resident John White:
SR3 offers this advice to anyone who finds a sea animal on the shore:
Do not touch! Marine mammals including seals, sea lions, sea otters, whales, and porpoises are protected by the federal laws that require the public stay 100 yards away.
If you believe a marine animal is in distress or injured, contact the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network at 1-866-767-6114.
If you find an entangled whale along Washington, Oregon, or California call the NOAA Fisheries Entanglement Reporting Hotline at 1-877-SOS-WHALe (1-877-767-9425). Prompt reporting is the best way to assist an entangled animal.
If you see a sea otter on the beach in Washington, please contact the Washington Sea Otter Stranding Hotline at 1.877.SEAOTTER (1-877-326-8837).