Laguna Beach police Capt. Jason Kravetz confirmed Monday that the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration is investigating an incident March 23 at Goff Island Beach when a bulldog escaped from its owner and mauled and killed a sea lion.
Kravetz said city officials and NOAA representatives met last week for an hour and determined that the federal agency would look into possible civil or criminal charges against the owner of the 65-pound American bulldog mix.
"We don't have power to enforce federal codes," Kravetz said, adding that the area where the attack occurred is within a federal marine protection area.
This is not the first time a case like this has happened, he said.
"One of the NOAA officers told me of a case in Northern California where a couple was camping on the beach when their dog got loose and nipped a sea lion," Kravetz said. "They were charged a $200 fine."
NOAA's office of law enforcement is investigating the incident, as it would with any complaint about possible violations of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, Lesli Bales-Sherrod, communications specialist for NOAA's office of law enforcement, wrote in an email.
The act prohibits, with certain exceptions, the "take" — harassment, hunting, capturing, killing, collecting, or the attempt to do so — of marine mammals, Bales-Sherrod said. Violations can result in a civil fine of up to $11,000, or a criminal penalty of up to $100,000 and imprisonment of up to a year or both.
The NOAA's special agent headquartered in Long Beach is not aware of any similar incidents of a dog attacking and killing a sea lion in Orange County, Bales-Sherrod said.
The Orange County Register first reported the story Monday.
Laguna Beach police arrived at Goff Island Beach on March 23 to find that the dog had broken free from its 18-year-old owner, the daughter of former astronaut Mark Kelly and stepdaughter of former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, according to an earlier Coastline Pilot story. Police said the dog attacked the beached sea lion on a public beach below the Montage Laguna Beach.
Officers didn't cite the owner "because it was legal for her to have the dog on the beach that time of year, and she did have [the animal] leashed," Kravetz said at the time.