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Reward to find killer of sea otters off Central Coast doubles to $20,000

Reward to find killer of sea otters off Central Coast doubles to $20,000
A group of sea otters is seen in Morro Bay in 2010. Authorities say three otters were fatally shot off the California coast in the last month. (Reed Saxon / Associated Press)

The reward to find whoever is responsible for fatally shooting three sea otters off the Central Coast has been doubled to $20,000.

On Thursday, the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity announced it would contribute to the reward announced by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife earlier this week for information leading to the capture of the shooter or shooters.

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The two juvenile males and one adult male otter were killed between late July and early August and washed up between Santa Cruz Harbor and Seacliff State Beach in Aptos between Aug. 12 and 19, officials said Monday.

The animals are protected under the Endangered Species Act and state law. Killing a Southern sea otter is punishable by up to $100,000 in fines and jail time, authorities said.

"Someone, somewhere has likely bragged about this horrible crime and it's imperative that leads be reported to the authorities so this investigation can move ahead,"  Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. "Once that happens, we're calling on prosecutors to pursue this case to the fullest extent of the law."

Southern sea otters, also known as California sea otters, navigate the waters between San Mateo and Santa Barbara counties and the area around San Nicolas Island in Ventura County. They were hunted to the brink of extinction for their pelts but have been protected since they were listed as a threatened species in 1977.

"Shooting California sea otters is a despicable act of cruelty and ignorance," Sakashita said. "These shootings aren't just a crime against these otters but against nature and, indeed, all of those who value California's stunning beauty and wildlife."

A necropsy revealed the otters had been killed days or weeks before they were found. The initial $10,000 reward was put forward by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the state fish and wildlife agency and a private donor. The CBD added $10,000 to the reward money Thursday.

Anyone with information about the killings can call (888) 334-2258.

For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna on Twitter.

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