Biologists: 10 sea lions shot to death in Puget Sound

Biologists: 10 sea lions shot to death in Puget Sound
SEATTLE -- The number of sea lions found shot to death in Puget Sound is higher than first thought.

We first heard of five sea lions found shot to death in January and February, but biologists recovered a total of 11 carcasses so far this year, they've now determined 10 were shot to death.

"It's a very, very sad situation," said Robin Lindsey, a photographer and a first responder for Seal Sitters, a group that works to protect the marine animal.

She was there when biologists examined the endangered stellar sea lion found in West Seattle. She watched, as they found the bullet that killed it.

"And that really was a staggering event," Lindsey said. "Because first of all, I was so shocked at how tiny the bullet was and that is why it is so difficult to find them in a body mass that huge."

The bullet is the size of a finger nail. The stellar Sea Lion was more than 9 feet long and probably weighed 1,200 pounds.

Biologists also examined eight dead California Sea Lions and a Harbor Seal.

"We've recovered bullets and bullet fragments from all of the animals that were confirmed shot," said Brian Gorman with NOAA Fisheries.

All of that ammunition went to a ballistics lab for scientists to identify a gun and whether or not the bullets came from the same weapon.

It's the second time we're seen sea lions shot. Several were shot to death in 2007, and they never did find who did that.

Why would anyone shoot a helpless animal in the water?

"Really, the only way you can legally shoot a sea lion is if it's threatening your life or your safety," Gorman said.

But there's no criminal charge for shooting a marine animal to death.

"At the very least it would be a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act," Gorman said. "If we could prove that, and that's up to a $50,000 fine."

The Humane Society of the United States put a $2,500 reward out for any information that leads to an arrest. Gorman and others say chances are, someone will brag about it be ratted out.