California authorities are offering a $21,000 reward for information that could lead to the person or persons responsible for fatally shooting three sea otters last year.
The three sea otters were all found dead last fall on a Monterey Peninsula beach, according to federal wildlife authorities who announced the reward on Friday. An endangered species that was hunted nearly to extinction during the early 1900’s and have struggled to make a comeback since being listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1977.
California sea otters, also called Southern sea otters, are protected not only by the Endangered Species Act, but under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act and California law.
“We want to bring things full circle and find the people responsible for this act,” Charge Rebecca Roca, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Resident Agent who is directing the criminal investigation into the shootings, said in a statement, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Two of the furry marine mammals were shot in the head while one was shot through the back, necropsies showed. All three were killed by coated lead bullets sometime between Sept. 1, 2013, and Sept. 5, 2013, authorities said.
“With all of the natural threats and human-caused problems facing sea otters, it’s especially tragic that a person would set out to intentionally kill these sea otters,” said Andrew Johnson, Sea Otter Research and Conservation Program Manager for the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
“These baseless killings are nothing short of acts of barbarism,” Kim Delfino, director of California programs for Defenders of Wildlife, said in a statement. “Moreover, shooting endangered species like the southern sea otter is illegal, and the criminals responsible should be punished to the highest extent of the law. Southern sea otters are one of the charismatic species that make our country such a special place, and we must do all that we can to protect and champion these imperiled animals.”
“With so few southern sea otters surviving in the wild, we need to do everything we can protect them,” said Jim Curland, Advocacy Program Director, Friends of the Sea Otter. “Killing a defenseless animal is a horrific act and should not go unpunished.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service urged anyone with information on the shootings to contact one of its agents at (650) 876-9078 or file an anonymous report by calling (703) 358-1949. A conviction could result in jail time and up to $100,000 in fines, according to the agency.