- Associated Press - Thursday, May 28, 2015

ASTORIA, Ore. (AP) - Federal wildlife officials are investigating a string of sea lion shootings on the Oregon coast.

The Humane Society of the U.S. and another group are offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the identification, arrest, and conviction of those responsible for the shootings.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says 10 California sea lions and one harbor seal were shot and killed during April and May.

Their bodies were found floating in the waters near the shore in Astoria, Oregon. Multiple shell casings were found nearby, in areas where sea lions congregate.

Killing a sea lion is a federal offense under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Since the passage of that law in 1972, populations of California sea lions have increased dramatically and the species is now considered in good shape. But the law does not adjust protections based on population, and some people - like fishermen and cities - are frustrated with the animals’ impact.

The law does include provisions allowing for deterrence of animals to protect private property, as long as the methods used do not result in the death or serious injury of an animal.

The Port of Astoria in recent weeks has tried many creative means to keep the sea lions away, including beach balls, colorful surveying tape, chicken wire and electrified mats.

Wildlife officials are also trying to keep sea lions from munching on protected salmon near the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River. Federal officials authorized states to kill those sea lions that have been shown to gorge on too many salmon.

Previously, federal engineers had tried to scare the sea lions away from the dam and the fish by using firecrackers and other loud noises - to no avail.

“While some people are clearly frustrated by the number of sea lions and their impacts, others are very supportive of the animals. It is a difficult situation with strong feelings on both sides,” NOAA Fisheries Service spokesman Michael Milstein said.

The sea lions should begin to leave the Northwest within weeks, Milstein said, to return to the rookeries off Southern California for breeding season.


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