SANTA CRUZ HARBOR, California-For years, sea otters have delighted visitors and residents along central California’s coastline. They can be spotted grooming, holding each other’s paws and enjoying crustacean snacks while floating on their backs.
But not all appear to be pleased with the furry marine mammals. Three male sea otters have been found dead with gunshot wounds in Monterey Bay.
Their carcasses washed ashore between August 12 and 19, between the Santa Cruz Harbor and Seacliff State Beach, according to a joint statement from the US Fish and Wildlife Service and California Department of Fish and Wildlife Law Enforcement Officials. After examining the otters, authorities say that the creatures probably died days or weeks after they were shot.
Last week, a fourth dead otter washed ashore also with a suspected gunshot wound, a spokeswoman from the US Fish and Wildlife told the Guardian.
Authorities are offering $10,000 in reward for information regarding the shootings that would lead to the arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible. That money comes from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, California Department of Fish and Wildlife and a private donor.
Sea otters are protected as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act. Penalties for killing a sea otter can amount to $100,000 in fines and possibly a jail sentence.
Sea otters once thrived around the Pacific Rim before they were hunted to near extinction. By 1938, there were only about 50 sea otters in central California. Over time with conservation efforts, they’re now at 3,000, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
The otters are mainly concentrated in the area between Monterey Bay to the south of the Big Sur coast, where they can often be spotted near shore.
Authorities are also asking people to take a picture if they spot a dead sea otter in Santa Cruz County, to leave it in place and report it to state authorities.