PORTLAND, Ore. - The Humane Society of the United States is offering a reward of $5,000 for information leading to the identification, arrest and conviction of those responsible for shooting six federally protected sea lions on the Columbia River along the Washington/Oregon border.
The carcasses of four California sea lions and two Steller sea lions were found Sunday about noon. They appeared to have been shot.
The discovery came one day after three elephant seals were found shot to death at a breeding ground in central California.
Oregon and Washington state are trapping some California sea lions to keep them from eating salmon at the Bonneville Dam.
All three species are federally protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. But Steller sea lions are also protected under the Endangered Species Act, authorities said.
Oregon and Washington state are trapping some California sea lions to keep them from eating salmon at Bonneville Dam, just east of Portland.
Seven California sea lions were trapped starting April 24 after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals approved their capture. One died during a medical inspection before transfer to a Sea World park.
Trapping operations will be suspended during the investigation, said Rick Hargrave, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman, who was at the scene.
The six animals found dead Sunday appear to have been shot by somebody on the Washington state side of the Columbia during the night, according to Brian Gorman, regional spokesman for National Marine Fisheries Service, or NOAA Fisheries, in Seattle.
Two California sea lions and one Steller sea lion each were found in two open cages next to each other on the river, he said.
Necropsies were planned for all the animals and the area was being treated as a crime scene by state and federal agencies, Gorman said.
Oregon and Washington have been granted federal authorization to capture or kill up to 85 sea lions a year for five years at the base of the dam, where they feed on endangered salmon headed upriver to spawn.
Fishermen and American Indian tribes have pushed to protect the salmon and remove the sea lions, by lethal force if necessary, forcing a delicate balancing act by the federal government.
The Humane Society of the United States has gone to court to challenge the authorization, with another hearing set for May 8.
Until a judge rules, no animals may be killed.
"We're really shocked," said Sharon Young, a Humane Society spokeswoman, who learned about the deaths from a reporter. "We're a nation of laws and we should expect people to abide by them."
Investigators will try to determine if there is any link between the animals killed Sunday on the Columbia and the elephant seals killed Saturday near San Simeon on the central California coast, Gorman said.