Three northern elephant seals were found shot dead Saturday morning at the Point Piedras Blancas elephant seal colony near San Simeon, Calif., five miles north of Hearst Castle, authorities said.
The three seals -- each about 1,000 pounds and between 2 and 5 years old -- were discovered shortly before 9 a.m. by a docent conducting a seal count on the beach. They had been shot in the back of the head.
“They were found in a pool of blood,” said Leander Tamoria, supervising ranger at San Simeon State Park. “People come here to see the sights, and this is a sight no one wants to see.”
The shootings come during molting season, when hundreds of seals station themselves on the beach without eating or drinking for a month to shed their skin.
Because the seals were so heavy, officials from the California Department of Fish & Game had to remove the animals’ heads to investigate what kind of bullets were used, Tamoria said.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Law Enforcement is offering a $5,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest and conviction, said Special Agent Roy Torres.
Elephant seals are protected under the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act, which makes it illegal to harass, shoot or feed them. Violating the law can result in fines up to $20,000 and imprisonment.
Anyone with information about the shootings should call Torres at (831) 647-2127, the Office of Law Enforcement hotline at (800) 853-1964 or California State Parks at (805) 927-2068.