Elaine Thompson / AP
This dead sea lion with bullet wounds was found on a West Seattle beach on Jan. 23.
A group best known for fighting off whalers has joined federal investigators looking into the recent killings of sea lions near Seattle, offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever is responsible.
Another sea lion was found dead over the weekend, adding to seven others found in recent weeks with bullet wounds. A harbor seal was also found dead.
Federal officials planned to examine the latest sea lion on Tuesday to determine if it, too, had been shot.
The latest sea lion found was on the Nisqually River, south of Seattle, as were six of the other sea lions.
Robin Lindsey / sealsitters.org
Officials examine a dead sea lion found on a Seattle park beach on Jan. 23.
"This is a violation of U.S. federal law and the person or persons responsible for these shootings must be apprehended and brought to justice," Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, said in announcing the reward late Monday.
Watson, who is on a Sea Shepherd ship off Antarctica pursing Japanese whaling ships, noted that his group has offered rewards in the past, including one that led to the arrest of a man convicted of killing 22 seals in New Zealand.
The suspicion has been that sea lions in the Seattle area's Puget Sound are being targeted because they devour salmon, thus reducing what's available for fishermen.
"Sadly, shootings occur annually in the Pacific Northest, particularly in fall and winter when large numbers of sea lions move into our area in search of food," Seal Sitters, a group that responds to marine mammal strandings in the Seattle area, noted in its blog.
Sea lions are certainly feeding this winter, including the Nisqually, where a state wildlife biologist recently took photos of a large congregation. "This is the most sea lions I have ever seen at once in south sound," Pete Topping told the Seattle Times of the Dec. 24 sighting.
Dozens of sea lions were spotted on Dec. 24, 2011, on an anchored barge in the Nisqually Delta by Pete Topping, a Washington state wildlife biologist.
Firecrackers and even rubber bullets have been used by officials to try to scare off sea lions but to little avail. Some known to be California sea lions that migrated north have been captured and trucked back. Those that end up returning and are spotted are killed.
Anyone with information was urged to contact the federal investigation hotline at 800-853-1964. "The information can be provided in confidence and the source can remain confidential," Sea Shepherd said in a statement.
Penalties could range from fines to jail time. One of the animals killed was a Stellar sea lion, a species protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.
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