Wahington: Third Sea Lion Found with Gunshot Wound

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Posted by on February 05, 2007 at 00:08:59:

Olalla, WA

The third sea lion carcass to be found in southern Puget Sound with a bullet wound in the past week was examined at the Olalla boat ramp this morning.

Two agents with the state Department of Fisheries and Wildlife examined the decomposing corpse of the Steller sea lion, a federally protected species that has been declining in numbers since the 1970s.

The agents were looking for evidence of who had shot it in the head.

It's a federal offense to shoot a live Steller sea lion, said Brian Gorman of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Gorman said the animal, which was first seen off Vashon Island Sunday, is the third sea lion carcass found with a bullet wound in southern Puget Sound since last Friday.

It won't be known when the three were shot, or even whether they were still alive when shot, until necropsy results are received, Gorman said.

Wildlife biologist Dyanna Lambourn of the department's Marine Mammal Investigations unit said the dead sea lion, estimated to be about 900 pounds, was towed to Olalla on Wednesday to await the necropsy.

It was first seen floating off Vashon Island on Sunday, she said. It was tied to a fairly stout tree limb on Tuesday, but somehow broke free. It was respotted floating about three miles from where it was first seen and was towed through the water to Olalla.

Lambourn, assisted by agent Amelia Brower, cut away the ribs with a lopper to collect the sea lion's internal organs Tuesday.

Other than the bullet wound, it appeared in good health, she said.

Steller sea lions are protected not only by the Marine Animal Protection Act, but by the Endangered Species Act. They are listed as a "threatened" species due to declining numbers.

Gorman said shooting a sea lion is punishable by maximum fines of between $10,000 and $30,000, which do not include jail time.

The few civil cases brought for shooting a sea lion resulted in fines below the maximum, he said. They rarely determine who fired the shot.

Fishermen are know to object to the number of fish sea lions eat.

Lambourn said a adult sea lion can grow to 2,000 pounds. The 900-pounder she was working on was not quite mature.

The researchers were planning to tow the carcass back into the Colvos Passage and sink it after completing the study, she said.

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