Law enforcement officials in the state of Washington are investigating what appears to be a string of possibly related shootings that have killed several sea lions in the region near Puget Sound. Over the last several weeks, authorities say, eight sea lions, including one belonging to an endangered species, have been discovered slaughtered at the hands of an as yet unknown gunman.
According to local news affiliate KING-TV, officials from Washington's Department of Fish and Wildlife and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have yet to identify the person or persons responsible for the illegal killings of sea lions, but the method has been the same.
Investigators said they do not know who killed the sea lions. The penalty for poaching a sea lion could range from fees to possible jail time.
One of the sea lions found on the Nisqually River was a Stellar sea lion, federally protected under the Endangered Species Act. The one found in West Seattle was a California sea lion, which are a protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Some suspect the animals' deaths stem from the historically contentious relationship between fishermen and sea lions, who are often seen as competitors for available fish in and around Puget Sound. KING-TV reports that this isn't the first time human conflicts with sea lions has escalated to violence; in 2010, five sea lions were discovered shot to death near Seattle in a similar case which has yet to be resolved.
Such crimes against wildlife can result in fines or jail time.