Marine rescuers in Southern California say they typically see an increase in sea lion shootings during October, which is when squid fishing season begins in earnest. At least four of the mammals have washed ashore this month, but investigators are unsure of the culprits. Angie Crouch reports from Playa Del Rey for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Oct. 24, 2013.
Four sea lions have been found with fatal gunshot wounds along beaches in Malibu and federal authorities have launched investigations to find the culprits.
The first case happened Aug. 1, when a male yearling was found with a bullet wound that entered its right shoulder at Pirate’s Cove near Zuma Beach, said Jonsie Ross, of the California Wildlife Center in Malibu.
Another male yearling was found Aug. 17 with a bullet wound through his cheek at Point Dume.
Two sea lions with possible .22-caliber bullet wounds were found a day apart Oct. 10 and 11 at Broad Beach and Big Rock, which is just north of Tujunga Beach, officials said.
“It’s troubling to see animals that are shot by weapons,” said David Bard, the director of the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro, which received two of the mammals.
Ross said that sea lion shootings happen every year in October when squid fishing season begins, but acknowledged she had no evidence that the shootings were caused by fishermen.
The California Wetfish Producers Association, which represents the squid fishery, said fishermen who recently worked in Malibu are unaware of any shootings.
“I called several fisherman,” said Diane Pleschner-Steele, the executive director of the California Wetfish Producers Association. “They knew nothing. They didn’t know who had done it. We don’t condone it. It’s illegal to shoot for any reason.”
David Reilly, a special agent at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said he is investigating the cases, but said it’s tough to find the culprits. He said he relies on tips from the public to help make cases.
“You almost have to see it for a prosecution to be made,” he said.
Fishermen are allowed to use nonlethal means to scare the sea lions away, but shooting animals is forbidden under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Those caught and convicted of shooting a sea lion face up to $10,000 in fines and up to a year in jail.
Reilly said he issued $525 fines to two fishermen recently for harassing marine life.
One fisherman fired a pellet gun at sea lions and dolphins, Reilly said. The other man was using “seal bombs” to harass sea lions. Seal bombs are legal, but can only be used during fishing times to scare away the animals. This man was using the bombs at other times, Reilly said.
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