NOAA investigators are mystified as to why eight California sea lions -- seven of them with bullet fragments in their carcass -- have washed up on south Puget Sound shores since Dec. 1. "This is quite unusual, and we don't know what's happening -- and we want to know," NOAA Fisheries Brian Gorman told Seattle Weekly this morning.
Gorman said that in any given year, the federal agency will receive notification that between 5 and 10 sea lions have been shot and killed, but to get 7 in a two-month period is very odd.
Most of the animals that have turned up on local beaches have been dead for two to three weeks and drifting around the Sound, meaning "they could have died anywhere in Puget Sound," Gorman added.
The ongoing investigation includes a search for witnesses and a necropsy and X-rays to see if the bullets came from the same gun and provide other evidence of the apparent shootings.
"We're taking this investigation very seriously," Gorman said.
Since Dec. 1, sea lions have washed up in West Seattle, the Nisqually River, Steilacoom, Fox and McNeil islands, and Moclips on the coast. A harbor seal was also found dead in Dupont.
The Sea Shepherds are offering a $10,000 reward to anyone providing information leading to the arrest or conviction of the person or persons who killed sea lions in Puget Sound.
Anyone with information is asked to call the NOAA National Enforcement Hotline at 800-853-1964.