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sea lion shootings

Investigation widens as more shot sea lions found in Puget Sound

Another sea lion has been discovered shot in South Puget Sound’s Nisqually Delta this week. This brings the total number of confirmed pinniped deaths by bullet wounds in Washington State to eight:
in Puget Sound, there have been 4 California sea lions and 1 adult harbor seal; in Hood Canal, 1 threatened Steller sea lion; on the outer coast of Washington, 1 California sea lion; most recent, in the Nisqually Refuge, 1 California sea lion.

Unsubstantiated reports this week by some media of a “shot baby sea lion” were untrue. Instead, a dead harbor seal pup was reported at Picnic Point in Edmonds. The reporting party said the animal was shot and gave an incorrect identity of species. There was no evidence of foul play when photos of the pup were reviewed by marine mammal stranding experts. Most likely, the person who found the animal mistakenly thought the pup’s tiny ear hole was a bullet entry wound. This is a common misconception by the public since harbor seals have no external ear flap.

Determining the cause of death for a marine mammal can challenge even the most experienced of biologists. Small entry wounds are extremely difficult to see on a massive, often decomposed animal. According to WDFW marine mammal biologist Dyanna Lambourn, more often than not, trauma from a bullet (such as hemorrhaging and tissue damage) is usually discovered once the animal is opened up for necropsy. Once the damage is discovered, the investigators are able to track back through the body to find the entry wound. Often, there is suspicion of a bullet wound, but the bullet itself is not found on initial exam. Radiographs reveal clear evidence of fragmented bone and often the embedded bullet itself. Dyanna is shown here (photo above) reviewing radiographs of recent sea lion shootings. These new radiographs proved that the Lincoln Park sea lion had been shot in the head as well as left lung.

It is imperative that the public continue to call with reports of all dead seals and sea lions: call NOAA’s hotline at 1-800-853-1964 or Seal Sitters’ Hotline at 206-905-7325 (SEAL) for all West Seattle reports. Scavenger damage and natural decomposition can cause small external wounds and holes in the carcasses of dead marine mammals. Please do not assume the animal you are reporting has been shot. When at all possible, trained professionals will respond if the condition of the animal is fresh and the best available data can be collected. Photos from the public are helpful in determining species and general condition in case the animal cannot be located or if response is not possible. When reporting, please provide hotline operators with as precise a location of the animal as possible, including notable landmarks. Necropsies are performed to keep tabs on the health of the populations and monitor signs for outbreak of disease or other factors contributing to death - and, of course, provide evidence if indeed there is foul play.

There is an on-going investigation by NOAA’s Office for Law Enforcement regarding the shooting deaths of these animals. Please call 1-800-853-1964 to report any suspicious activity regarding marine mammal harassment or if you have any information regarding these shootings. Sea Shepherd Society has offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to arrest and conviction in this case.

Latest information from NOAA/WDFW regarding sea lion deaths

(text courtesy NOAA/WDFW)

In January and February 2010 the Northwest Marine Mammal Stranding Network received numerous calls about dead sea lions in Puget Sound. There were a total of 19 reports of dead sea lions from Kingston south to Olympia. Eleven of those reported have been located and responded to from a number of network responders, which includes Washington Dept of Fish and Wildlife Marine Mammal Investigations, Cascadia Research Collective, NOAA Fisheries, and West Seattle Seal Sitters.

Of the eleven carcasses examined, ten of the animals were confirmed as shot. Two of the animals were Steller sea lions which are threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Eight of the animals were CA sea lions and one other sea lion is suspected to have been shot, but could not be confirmed.

All marine mammals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and shooting these animals is illegal. The NOAA Office for Law Enforcement investigates violations of the MMPA and has a 24 hour hotline to take reports from the public.

Necropsies in progress

Three of the four necropsies scheduled for California sea lions have been completed - one on Vashon Island, one on Bainbridge Island and one in Des Moines. The fourth necropsy should be completed mid-week. SS will provide updates regarding results as soon as possible, so please check back for updates. Shown here, WDFW biologist (right) and her assistant perform a necropsy on the beach in Des Moines. The body was towed out into the Sound after completion.

More necropsies to be performed by WDFW

Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) plans to respond and necropsy an additional four California sea lions to investigate cause of death. Please check back for updates when available.

Authorities from NOAA and WDFW would like to stress that it is extremely difficult to tell upon a visual examination if a marine mammal has been shot. A bullet entry wound is quite small and particularly difficult to see on a fur-covered animal, much less one that has been dead in the water or on shore for some time; fur tends to rub off in circular spots and scavengers (both marine and terrestrial) can create wounds that might appear to the layperson as a bullet wound. Indeed, the biologists have to search quite extensively through blubber layers, muscle and tissue to find signs of bullet entry and hemmoraging in hopes of retrieving a bullet. Often, it can only be determined by radiography. So, if you find a dead seal or sea lion, please do not assume the animal has been shot. Report it immediately to NOAA’s hotline 1-800-853-1964 or in West Seattle, call Seal Sitters dispatch @ 206-905-7325 (SEAL).

Humane Society offers reward for sea lion killings

Just released by the HSUS:
Reward Offered in Sea Lion Poaching Case in West Seattle
(Feb. 12, 2010) - The Humane Society of the United States and The Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust are offering a reward of up to $2,500 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the deaths of five sea lions.

According to published media reports, five sea lions were found dead on a West Seattle beach over the past week. Necropsies revealed that the animals died of gunshot wounds and had been dead for one to two weeks. "The individual or individuals responsible for this callous poaching have an appalling disregard for both sea lions and the laws that exist to protect these iconic animals," said Dan Paul, Washington state director for The HSUS. "The Humane Society of the United States applauds the National Marine Fisheries Service for investigating this case."

One of the dead sea lions was a Steller sea lion, which is protected by the federal Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The others were California sea lions, which are also protected by the MMPA. If convicted, the poacher may face a $50,000 fine.

Every year, thousands of poachers are arrested nationwide; however, it is estimated that only 1 percent to 5 percent of poachers are caught. Poachers kill wildlife anytime, anywhere and sometimes do so in particularly cruel ways.

Anyone with information about this case is asked to call the National Marine Fisheries Service at 1-800-853-1964.
The HSUS Media Contact: Liz Bergstrom, 240-751-0659, ebergstrom@humanesociety.org
The HSUS works to stop wildlife abuse across the country. Visit humanesociety.org/wildlifeabuse for more information.

News media reports of 5 shot sea lions in WS inaccurate

Published reports by the news media that 5 sea lions have been found shot on West Seattle beaches are erroneous. In fact, three sea lions (1 Steller and 2 California sea lions) dead from gunshot wounds have washed up on our shore. The other two shot sea lions were found in Burien and Gig Harbor. As sometimes can happen when a news story is fast breaking, information can get misconstrued.

According to DFW, there are an estimated 3-9 additional sea lions floating in the water. This number is vague due to the fact that the same sea lion may be sighted over and over in different locations. This stresses the need for a dead animal onshore to be reported immediately so that authorities can mark and secure the animal for possible necropsy. Seal Sitters reminds you that when reporting any marine mammal onshore (dead or alive) give as precise a location as possible in a timely manner.

News links for sea lion shootings

We are providing links to all news stories posted regarding the sea lion and seal shootings in Puget Sound. Links will be updated as new stories emerge.

There are some inaccuracies in the stories reported by media. One important point to correct is the statement that we have had “only three seals” show up dead since 2007. Quite the contrary, we have had a number of harbor seals (adults and pups) over the past several years that have died from “natural” causes ~ including parasites and viruses. In the fall of 2007, a dead California sea lion came ashore at Don Armeni boat ramp where a necropsy was performed and a bullet recovered. In October of 2008, we also had a dead sea lion on a private beach that was not necropsied. SS photographed and marked the animal. The sea lion went out with the tide and eventually appeared in late November on the north stretch of Alki Beach where he was buried with a backhoe.

Additionally, the photo by a citizen of a sea lion wedged in the rocks near Cormorant Cove has been positively identified by photo comparison. It is the second CA sea lion necropsied late in the afternoon on the 11th.

KOMO 4 News story                   KOMO 4 video

KIRO 7 News story                     KIRO 7 video

KING 5 story and video             CTV News (Canada)

Newspapers and Web blogs
West Seattle Blog, Seattle Times, Associated Press, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle

Sea lion necropsy updates

It has been confirmed that the Steller sea lion that was necropsied on a West Seattle private beach on February 2 was shot. This was confirmed by radiograph and bullet retrieval.

Additionally, it is believed that the second California sea lion necropsied late yesterday afternoon likely died from a bullet, but test results have not yet been completed to confirm this suspicion.

4 dead pinnipeds on West Seattle beaches

Two California sea lions and two harbor seals have been found dead on West Seattle beaches the past two days. While winter typically brings a fair amount of death to our shores because seal pups are struggling to survive, this volume seems unusual. A Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist and her team performed necropsies in hopes to get at the root cause of death. After the necropsies on the two adult male sea lions, they towed the carcasses out by boat to mid-channel to provide food for our eco-system. They worked for hours in a cold, pouring rain taking measurements of blubber layers, tissue samples and removing the skull for subsequent radiographs.

A crowd gathered above Constellation Park as the first CA sea lion (shown above) was examined and a bullet removed from the body. Results of the second necropsy are not known at this time. Both sea lions were estimated to have been 8-10 years old and in reasonably good health as determined by fat layers and other factors.

The body of the adult harbor seal was taken by the DFW for necropsy at their office. The decomposed body of a harbor seal on Constellation Park beach was buried by Parks earlier in the day. The bodies of the three marine mammals were secured with ropes by SS volunteers and Parks so that they would not go out with the tides before biologists could arrive on scene. Seal Sitters would like to thank Dan and Simi of Parks (shown at left with the harbor seal taken for necropsy) for their on-going help.

Please check back for updates as this story develops.

Steller sea lion necropsy on private beach

Fish and Wildlife biologists performed a necropsy on an adult male Steller sea lion this afternoon. The dead tagged sea lion was reported on the beach yesterday afternoon. Seal Sitters responded and documented the brand and tag info and general condition of the body. This extremely large male was tagged in 2001 at Shilshole Bay and was estimated at that time to be 2-3 years old, making his approximate age between 10 - 12 years. The necropsy team arrived by boat and after performing the procedure and securing samples, the body was towed out to mid channel, weighted with sand bags and released to provide nutrients for other sea life.

Stellers are the largest of all sea lions and can weigh up to 2500 pounds. Lighter in color than California sea lions, another distinguishing feature is a broadened head with less prominent bump on the forehead (sagittal crest). Their population numbers have plummeted in recent years and the western stock is on the endangered list. Read more about Steller sea lions here.
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