A female sea lion nicknamed Mandalorian that had two gunshot wounds and was rescued last month in Newport Beach has been euthanized, the Pacific Marine Mammal Center said Tuesday.
The 1-year-old sea lion was rescued from the surf spot the Wedge at the end of Balboa Peninsula on Dec. 16, the Laguna Beach-based marine mammal center said in a statement.
During her check-in, the center’s veterinary team found a draining abscess on her back that limited her ability to move normally.
Mandalorian underwent a series of X-rays to determine the extent of the injury. The images showed two gunshots in her chest, likely from a pellet rifle.
“Our veterinary care team did everything they could to try and ease her pain,” Krysta Higuchi, a spokeswoman for the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, said in an interview. “After a week of no progress whatsoever, while her health continued to decline, our team made the very difficult decision that she be humanely euthanized.”
Mandalorian was euthanized Dec. 22.
A necropsy showed one of the bullets wedged between the sea lion’s rib and adjacent vertabrae, the center said. The bullet’s entry wound is believed to have become infected, leading to severe muscle necrosis and an accumulation of fluid in her chest cavity.
The second bullet was lodged in her muscles between her ribs.
Higuchi said it was a “very difficult week” at the small rescue center, which has a full-time staff of about 16 people. The sea lion wasn’t properly using her rear flippers and was dragging the rear part of her body.
“You could clearly see the animal was in pain,” Higuchi said. “The silver lining is she is no longer suffering. We were able to give her a peaceful death.”
The gunshot pellets will be sent to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service Office of Law Enforcement for further investigation.
Jim Milbury, a spokesman for the NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region, told The Times that sea lions are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which prohibits the injury of a marine mammal in the wild. Penalties include a fine of up to $28,520 per count, a year in prison, criminal fines and forfeiture of vessels or vehicles involved.
Higuchi said it will be difficult to determine who shot Mandalorian because both the Pacific Marine Mammal Center and NOAA have “limited resources.” Tracking a pellet rifle, she said, “is going to be next to impossible.”
“We don’t know who did this — if it was a fisherman, or if it was someone frustrated that the animal was on their boat, or if it was a little kid playing with their BB gun,” Higuchi said. “We just want to educate the public that there are other ways to co-exist with these animals.”
Peter Chang, chief executive of the center, said in a statement that Mandalorian’s wounds are an example of actions “taking place up and down the Pacific Coast.”
“These are disgusting and intentional acts, many of which are premeditated,” Chang said. “We know there are many out there that feel like they are competing with the sea lions for the same resources. However, there’s a pathway for us to co-habitate with these precious marine mammals, and shooting them is not the way.”
Last month, the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito said it had recently treated three sea lions with gunshot injuries. Two of the animals lost an eye after being shot in the face.
On Tuesday, NOAA Fisheries’ Office of Law Enforcement announced that it is offering a reward of up to $20,000 for information that leads to a civil penalty or criminal conviction in the shooting death of a northern elephant seal in September near San Simeon.
The seal’s body was found Sept. 29 near a popular viewing area along Highway 1, NOAA said. It had been shot in the head, its tail fins were cut off, and its chest cavity was cut open.
“We’re asking for help from anyone who may have seen or heard or knows anything related to this incident,” NOAA Fisheries Special Agent Jeremy Munkelt said in a statement.
Back in Southern California, the Pacific Marine Mammal Center currently is caring for 13 animals, slightly above normal for this time of the year, Higuchi said. Typically, most rescues happen between February and May, she said.
The majority have come in malnourished, dehydrated and lethargic.
In an unusual rescue Dec. 29, a young elephant seal, nicknamed Peppermint, was found in Doheny Beach with severe bites from a small cookiecutter shark that likely attacked because the elephant seal was sick and not moving well, Higuchi said. It is rare to see elephant seals, who spend most of the year offshore, in Orange County, she added.
Animals at the center are named by their rescuers. Mandalorian was named by “one of our volunteers who had just finished binge-watching ‘The Mandalorian,’” Higuchi said. Two recently rescued sea lion pups were named Yoda and Leia.