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10 sea lions have been shot to death: What we know and don’t know

A sea lion carcass was found in West Seattle last month, its decomposing body resting against the Water Taxi dock. A necropsy found that it had been shot five times with two types of bullets.

This was one of 10 sea lions that have been shot and killed in Puget Sound this season.

Here’s what we know and don’t know about the situation.

What we know

  • A decomposing sea lion smells disgusting, and there's risk of “explosions” during a necropsy because of gas build up in organs.
  • Sea lions, almost all of them male, migrate up to the Pacific Northwest each fall after leaving their rookeries off Southern California. They tend to come here during fall and winter salmon runs, which is also when fishermen are out, chasing spawning salmon.
  • “Shootings not so coincidentally increase in correlation with fish runs,” said a blog run by the Seal Sitters, a wildlife blog based in Seattle.
  • Sea lions are shot every year, but this seems to be more than usual. One was shot and killed last year, in November. But there have been other years with high numbers shot: In 2010, ten sea lions for the entire year were found with fatal gunshot wounds. (The 10 killed this year were from the past three months.)
  • More than half the shot sea lions have washed up with bullet wounds in West Seattle, and two on the Kitsap Peninsula. These include, according to Seal Sitters:

11/14 — A sea lion washes up near the public fishing pier in West Seattle;

11/15 — A sea lion is found in a small cove near Salty's, the popular West Seattle restaurant, its head sliced off;

11/25 — A sea lion is found on Vashon Island, across the water from West Seattle;

11/29 —A sea lion carcass shows up in Indianola on the Kitsap Peninsula;

11/30 — Another sea lion body appears in West Seattle.

  • Seals and sea lions have proliferated in Washington waters in recent decades, and some fishermen say the state needs to start going after them to save endangered orcas. "We’ve seen Steller sea lions probably quadruple in number in my area, easily," Makah tribal chair Nate Tyler told Gov. Jay Inslee’s killer whale task force earlier this year. "I don’t know how much fish one sea lion eats per day. That’s what the killer whales are fighting for."
  • Killing a seal or sea lion — or any marine mammal — violates the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act. Penalties can include up to $28,520 in fines and a year in prison.

[Read more about the sea lions that have been shot in this story by John Ryan.]

What we don’t know

  • There are no suspects, and officials will not say whether they suspect anyone.
  • Two sea lions believed to have been shot underwent a necropsy on Tuesday. Their bodies were very decomposed, so we don't know if they were shot or not -- and if they were, whether it was at the same time as the others.
  • Most important, we don’t know who is shooting these sea lions, whether it is one person or several.
  • And although fishermen have been suspected, we don’t know if that’s true, or why else someone would target these mammals.
  • Sixteen sea lions total have been found dead of acute trauma since September; 10 of those were shot to death, but we don’t know how the other six died.
  • We don't know if this is indicative of something more sinister, or if reports are coming in because of the media attention.

Additional reporting by John Ryan.

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