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Sea lion shootings remain a mystery; $5,000 reward offered

February 17, 2009 |  9:19 am

Sealion A marine animal rescue group is asking for help in finding who is responsible for a spate of sea lion shootings along the Los Angeles County coastline. At least four sea lions have been found with bullet wounds at area beaches since the beginning of the year, and at least one of them survived, said Peter Wallerstein, the founding director of Marine Animal Rescue.

The latest victim was a 9-month-old pup found Feb. 3 at Dockweiler Beach in Santa Monica Bay. Wallerstein said his group received a call about the animal from a concerned beachgoer.

“When we arrived on scene we saw this little 30-pound, 9-month-old sea lion pup lying on the beach,” Wallerstein said. At first glance, the animal appeared healthy. “Then he started dragging his back end like he couldn’t move it,” he said. “I was hoping it wasn’t what I thought it was.”

A radiograph confirmed that a bullet had severed the pup’s spine and he had to be euthanized, Wallerstein said.

Marine Animal Rescue is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of those responsible. Wallerstein said fishermen will sometimes injure or kill sea lions to keep them away from the fish, but that it was unusual to have so many shootings in such a short period of time.

Without more evidence, he said authorities with the National Marine Fisheries Service do not have the resources to hunt down those responsible, but he hoped that the reward would be an incentive for witnesses to come forward.

“We don’t believe this is something that we should tolerate as human beings,” he said. “If we don’t catch them, we hope that at least the shootings will stop.”

-- Alexandra Zavis

Photo: At first glance, this 9-month-old sea lion pup appeared healthy when it was found Feb. 3 at Dockweiler Beach in Santa Monica Bay. But marine animal rescuers say a radiograph confirmed that a bullet had severed the animal's spine and he had to be euthanized. Credit: Peter Wallerstein / Marine Animal Rescue.