SM BAY — A $5,000 reward was offered Wednesday for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever fatally shot a sea lion in the Santa Monica Bay a week ago.
On the afternoon of Aug. 3, an adult female sea lion was found dead on Venice Beach, said Paul Wallerstein with Marine Animal Rescue, the organization offering the reward.
“Blood was spurting out like a faucet,” said Wallerstein, who has been rescuing marine mammals in Los Angeles County for over 25 years. “We found three bullets in her. … She was very healthy otherwise.”
Some fishermen have been known to kill seals, sea lions and pelicans because they view them as a threat to their livelihoods. Some shoot the animals while others use “California seal control devices,” otherwise known as seal bombs.
The devices, which resemble powerful firecrackers, are typically used to scare off wildlife, including seals from around fishing nets. They are legal when used for that purpose as long as they do not harass or injure marine mammals. But some fishermen stuff them into dead fish and feed them to the animals, the explosion killing them or causing life-threatening injuries.
“Just this year we went to El Segundo and … found this beautiful, healthy animal with its lower jaw just hanging by threads of skin,” Wallerstein said. “She was still alive, sitting there looking up at us in this horrible state.”
In February of 2009, Wallerstein said he rescued an 8-month-old sea lion pup that washed ashore at Dockweiler Beach in Playa del Rey with a bullet wound to its spine. The pup was paralyzed and had to be euthanized.
“We see multiple shootings a year, and these are only the ones we see,” he added. “How many animals don’t make it to shore?”
David Reilly, special agent with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of Law Enforcement, is investigating the most recent shooting. Killing a marine mammal is a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which can result in a $100,000 fine and a year in prison.
Reilly said it can be difficult to track down the perpetrators because the crime typically occurs far out at sea where there are few witnesses. Animals attacked may travel miles from the scene of the crime before washing up on shore.
Reilly uses forensic evidence as well as standard investigative techniques to track down those responsible.
“It’s just like investigating a homicide involving a person, the only difference being that we are dealing with wildlife,” Reilly said. “Hopefully someone comes forward.”
Zeke Grader, executive director with the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman’s Associations, said most out at sea would never intentionally harm a sea lion or other marine mammal. Not only is it against the law, but it is also bad for business.
“Fisherman are sensitive to the fact that the public cares about these animals and they are the people who buy their product, so the last thing we want to do is insult the public — our customers,” said Grader, who recalls a time when customers stopped eating tuna because dolphins were being caught up in the nets.
“Our rule is basically just don’t do it,” he said. “If you are having problems with animals, report it to the authorities.”
Wallerstein said while some fishermen may see sea lions as competitors who snatch their catch of the day, the majority report illegal activity and refrain from killing the mammals.
“I don’t want to lump them all together into one category because we do get calls from other fishermen who do see injured animals. It’s definitely a small minority, but one that causes a lot of suffering.”
Wallerstein hopes the reward will lead to an arrest.
Those with information about the shooting or any other violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act can contact the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement hotline 24 hours a day, seven days a week at (800) 853-1964.