A 7-year-old California sea lion was rescued off of Boomer Beach in La Jolla after being shot point blank in the head on Oct. 5. Later named Buck, he was taken to SeaWorld for treatment and rehabilitation, and is recovering well.
The initial examination led doctors to believe the wound was a result of an encounter with another animal, but X-rays showed pellets from a shotgun lodged in the right side of Buck’s face.
“He was shot at point-blank range as doctors saw in the X-ray, a large number of pellets were imbedded into his skin.” said David Koontz, Communications Director for SeaWorld. “It was something that was very consciously done.”
Despite the wound, which destroyed and resulted in the loss of his right eye, Buck was in good physical health when he was rescued. “He was just suffering from infections to that wound. So he was very quickly put on a regime of antibiotics ... the antibiotics are working well [and his] infection is down,” Koontz said.
He added Buck is eating well and is very active. SeaWorld doctors hope to release Buck back into the wild in November. SeaWorld rehabilitation focuses on making sure the animal will survive without human assistance.
Koontz said SeaWorld treats several animals a year that come to them with gunshot wounds. A few weeks prior to finding Buck, SeaWorld rescued another sea lion that died due to its injury. In February, a sea lion named Valentine was rescued, having gunshot wounds to the flipper and shoulder. Valentine was rehabilitated and released back into the ocean.
“It [comes in] cycles but it’s not unusual for us to see several California sea lions every year with gunshot wounds,” Koontz said. “I would say in this particular case, this was definitely intentional [because] this was very close range.”
Jim Milbury, spokesperson for NOAA Fisheries, which handles these cases, said an investigation is open into these shootings, but are very difficult to close without new information.
“We receive about three to five complaints of marine mammal shootings a year off San Diego,” Milbury reported.
The charge would be violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which can result in fines of $100,000 and one year’s imprisonment for individuals.
Those with information or who want to report an injured animal, can call 1 (800) 541-SEAL (7325).