Thirteen sea lions have been found dead along the shores of Washington since September, according reports from a wildlife welfare group.
As NBC News reported, six of the sea lions died of gunshot wounds, four in West Seattle and two in Kitsap County, according to Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network. The other seven died of acute trauma suspected from human interactions around Kitsap County and the Puget Sound, with one sea lion washing up decapitated, said Seal Sitters, an organization that responds to reports of dead or stranded sea lions.
Marine mammals, like sea lions, are protected in the U.S. by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which prohibits people from harassing, hunting, capturing, killing marine mammals, or attempting to do so. Violations of the MMPA could result in fines of up to $28,520 and/or one year in prison. The 13 sea lion deaths are currently being investigated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries. Sea lion deaths increase around the time that fishing runs do, according to Seal Sitters, because fishermen and sea lions often hunt for the same food.
“We are concerned about a number of recent reports of marine mammal deaths caused by gunshots in the greater Seattle area. All marine mammals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act and OLE investigates all reported unlawful takes of sea lions,” Greg Busch, assistant director of the NOAA Fisheries’ Office of Law Enforcement (OLE), said in a statement.