In September, three southern sea otters were slain in Asilomar State Beach on California’s central coast and now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced that there is a $21,000 reward in order to gain information regarding the people who shot and killed the otters. Although the sea otters were killed back in September, details of the deaths were just released yesterday, as was the reward.
Monterey Bay Aquarium biologists originally discovered the deceased sea otters and it is believed they were killed between Sept. 1, 2013 and Sept. 5, 2013. According to the USFWS, autopsies of the three sea otters revealed that the males were shot with lead-coated bullets. Two of the otters were shot in the head, while the other one was shot in the back. The bullets were determined to be the cause of death.
In the mid-18th century, there were approximately 15,000 sea otters along the California coast. When their pelts became valuable and they were hunted, the number dwindled to around 50 otters by the early 20th century. California has worked hard to protect the southern sea otters after they were listed as a threatened species in 1977 under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and the number is back up to about 3,000 otters along the coast. But the number is no longer increasing and that is due to numerous environmental and human-caused problems, including: oil spills, water pollution and parasites. According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Sea Otter Research and Conservation Program Manager Andrew Johnson, it is appalling that someone would deliberately shoot and kill the sea otters when they are already faced by numerous “natural threats,” in addition to problems caused by humans.
Rebecca Roca, agent for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, said that the reward offered for information on the sea otters slain in California is to “give the investigation a boost.” The money for the $21,000 reward was given by a number of bodies, both public and private, as well as concerned citizens. The entities that contributed include the Humane Society of America, the U.C. Davis Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, among others.
The loss of these three male sea otters will not likely have a big effect on sea otter population in general due to the work to raise the species’ numbers. However, the otters do remain federally protected. Monterey Bay Aquarium Veterinarian Michael Murray said that regardless of whether it affects the population it is “just horrific in [his] eyes.”
The USFWS is looking for information that will specifically help arrest and convict the person responsible for shooting of the sea otters. Due to the otters’ protection under both the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act, the perpetrator(s) could face fines of up to $100,000 and even jail time. Roca said that they have a lot of information that is leading them in the right direction. Authorities are working to publicize the information of the sea otters slain in California and the offer of the $21,000 reward in order to bring justice to the “baseless killings.”
By Rebecca Hofland