November 7, 2017 – California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) law enforcement officers are investigating the fatal shooting of a southern sea otter in San Luis Obispo County in September. The animal was well known to state wildlife officials, as it had been previously rehabilitated, tagged and released after being found tangled in fishing line. Staff from CDFW, the Marine Mammal Center, Morrow Bay Harbor Patrol and the Monterey Bay Aquarium all participated in the rescue and rehabilitation of the otter, which was released back to the wild in July 2016.
“The senseless shooting of any sea otter is concerning,” said Mike Harris, a CDFW senior environmental scientist who helped with the initial rescue, “but to discover a case such as this, where a team of conservation organizations had already successfully treated the animal for a life-threatening entanglement, is exceptionally troubling and frustrating.”
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This particular otter was found dead, floating in Morro Bay, and a necropsy showed it had been killed with a pellet gun. It was identified by its numbered tag. This is only the latest in a rash of illegal incidents involving southern sea otters in California. Three otters were fatally shot in August 2016 in the Santa Cruz area, and an otter was found skinned near San Simeon this past September. CDFW and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement cases on these incidents are ongoing.
Southern sea otters are a protected species under the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and California law. Harming or harassing a sea otter, as well as removing or possessing a sea otter pelt or parts without a permit, are all punishable offenses under those protective statutes. Penalties for violation of otter protection legislation include fines up to $100,000 and possible imprisonment.
Anyone with information about these cases or any other illegal treatment of sea otters are encouraged to contact the CalTIP hotline at 1-888-334-2258 (callers may remain anonymous and rewards may be offered).