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Who is shooting California sea lions? It's usually a mystery

Sea lion
The weak and woozy California sea lion found on a San Francisco Bay-area beach in December with buckshot embedded in its skull has become an all-too-common sight for wildlife officials.

Wildlife officials have seen a slight rise in the shooting of ocean mammals in recent years, and investigators often struggle to find a culprit. “We always try to do an investigation, but unless there's an eyewitness to the shooting it's hard to make a case for our enforcement folks,” said Joe Cordaro, a wildlife biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who tracks reports of the shootings.

NOAA said there were 43 reported marine mammal shootings in 2009 in the waters off the California coast — nine more than in 2008 and 14 more than five years earlier. Of the reported shootings in 2009, all were sea lions. And officials say many more cases likely go unreported.

Wildlife officials say sea lion and human populations continue to increase, making interaction more common, especially among fishermen who compete for the same food and often view the creatures as a nuisance.

Though NOAA and the California Department of Fish and Game are responsible for investigating these cases, few of them result in prosecution. Recent public outcry over highly publicized cases like that of the wounded sea lion near San Francisco have brought more attention to the shootings.

Veterinarians at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, Calif., are treating the wounded critter in the hope an aquarium or zoo will take it. The 7-foot-long male, dubbed Silent Knight by its rescuers, is now blind and cannot return to the wild.

When there is a witness, there usually is a case. A witness came forward after the 2009 shooting of a 650-pound sea lion nicknamed Sgt. Nevis was covered by local press and television. Larry Legans of Sacramento was ordered to pay more than $51,000 in restitution for the cost of treating the critter, who recently underwent plastic surgery at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom to close bullet holes in its muzzle. Legas also spent a month in jail and got five years' probation.

Lt. Rob Roberts, a warden with the state Fish and Game Department, noted that reports have increased in kind with the growth of the sea lion population along the Northern California coast. Roberts hopes successful prosecutions and intense media coverage of cases like Legans' will help. “If the general public sees that there's recourse and accountability, that's a deterrent,” he said.

The Marine Mammal Center, where Silent Knight is being treated along with hundreds of ocean animals suffering a variety of ailments, treated nine gunshot victims in 2010. The center treated 18 in 2009, down from a high of 72 sea lions in 1992, when the center started keeping statistics.

While the number of mammals treated for gunfire wounds has trended downward at the center over the decades, in recent years it has begun to creep back the other way, statistics show.

On Monday, more than 400 people came to see Silent Knight during the center's visiting hours, fascinated by the plight of the wounded pinniped, said Jeff Boehm, the center's executive director.The center tries to help wardens in the investigations by determining the kind of weapon that  were used and how long an animal has been wounded.

“We've seen over 1,000 patients in 2010, and of that number only nine were shooting victims, a small fraction,” said Boehm, whose center studies and treats animals that have been injured by fishing nets, disease or environmental hazards like pollution.“But it's dramatic, because (these shootings) are entirely unnecessary situations.”


Sea Otters endangered in a warmer, sicker world

Endangered vaquita porpoise faring better in Gulf of California

Aleutian fishing limits aim to save Stellar sea lions

-- By Jason Dearen / Associated Press

Photo: Sea lions, including a large Steller sea lion, center, bask at the Farallon National Wildlife Refuge, a group of craggy, remote islands nearly 30 miles west of San Francisco. The Steller sea lion is listed as a threatened species under  the Endangered Species Act. Credit / Ben Margot / Associated Press

Comments () | Archives (23)

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The guvmint up in Oregon is also shooting them. They are destroying fish runs, even sturgeon. All you namby-pamby tree huggers need to bus it on up to Oregon to protest.
Si Se Puede!!!

It's obvious: A guy pays a lot to go fishing, and the sea lion steals his fish and expensive lures, over and over and over. I remember one sea lion who would grab my fish just as I caught them, snap my line, steal my $5.00 lures, and throw the heads of my fish up in the air right in front of me, like he was enjoying it. It would be a pity if someone shot him.

Ban all commercial fishing, NOW!!!!!

Fishermen are. Who else?

This is beyond horrible I can't believe this is happening I hadn't heard anything about this why don't they who ever they are put cameras where these animals are and then they will catch the people doing this horrible act but that takes brains to do that.

Makes you wonder what else these sick cowards do when no one is looking.

dove, swam, surfed and boated california for hundreds of years...... bullets to flesh is the foundation of laziness. Think, breathe and utilize or face stiffer legislation.... juste disant.....

Undoubtedly, a Republican and a supporter of Palin and GW Bushwacker

@JC...this isn't a bear in your backyard. You're in the ocean so YOU'RE in the seals' backyard, and have no right to attack them in any way.

Seals and sea lions can mistake boats for resting places - like flat rocks. a couple 400 lb sea slugs on your deck can quickly turtle you. The only way to get an ornery crittur off a deck is to make it painful for the crittur to stay. A couple rounds from a .44 ought to do it.

Only a loser would shoot a defenseless animal. Cowards.

I have one suggestion that that will help lower the shooting of sea lions. Simply offer an award to any fisherman who'll report the shooting of any sea lion by crew members on yellow tail fishing boats. I've witnessed numerous shootings at sea lions when the crew members are throwing bait anchovies to attract yellow tail for us yellow tail fishermen.

JZarris, ?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????. How's that?

Why not make it illegal to carry firearms on fishing boats? How simple is that?

JC, "questions" usually end with "question marks" this-?.

It takes an incredibly small person to take pot shots at a defenseless and innocent animal. There's a special place in hell for those people

people who hurt other people or animals usually have erectile dysfunction problems & need to prove their MAN HOOD through abusing & killing those who are smaller & defenseless. :(

Apparently, a slow news day.

Question: If you had a bear in your backyard destroying your property and putting yourself in danger would you shoot it!

Answer: Fisherman and others who are annoyed with them. Not my solution but the truth!

Has Sarah Palin been down here lately?

I'm not a tree-huger or anything; but what kind of scumbag shoots an innocent seal?

A N Y B O D Y using innocent creatures for target practice' or acting their own lacking of respect for anyone or anything is sadly becoming gradually more common place.I have to wonder WHAT KIND OF PEOPLE DO THAT?


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