Four suspects believed to have kidnapped an infant sea lion from a Los Angeles beach could face federal charges.
A visitor to Dockweiler State Beach told LAPD officers that he saw two men and two women, who appeared to be in their 20s, taunting two sea lion pups and throwing various items — including a concrete cinder block — at them at around 3 a.m. Sunday, the LA Times reports. The bystander, who said he was on the beach at that hour to pick up litter, said the group then wrapped one of the pups in a blanket and put it into the trunk of their vehicle, a dark-colored Honda Civic.
The LAPD called Peter Wallerstein, president of nonprofit group Marine Animal Rescue, about an hour later. Wallerstein told CBS Los Angeles that when he got to the beach, he found one young sea lion pup stuck in a patch of bushes. That pup, pictured above, weighs around 25 pounds, appears to be around 10 months old and is now in the care of Marine Animal Rescue.
“He was skinny and cold and hungry,” Wallerstein said.
The federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is looking into the pup-napping, while the LAPD is conducting a separate animal cruelty investigation. Harassing sea lions or keeping one in your home are federal crimes, punishable by a year in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine.
Wallerstein noted that although pups “really look cute”, people should not try to make them into pets. “These are wild animals,” he told the Associated Press. "You can't just feed it dog food. It's not going to work."
Not only is keeping a sea lion as a pet harmful for the animal, it’s dangerous for humans. Wallerstein told NBC Los Angeles that “sea lions can inflict a very serious bite” and have “the dirtiest mouth of any mammal.”
This most recent incident sheds light on the current plight of the marine mammals. A record number of sea lions, mostly pups, have been stranded in 2015, according to NOAA officials.
“Just to give you perspective, 1,800 [sea lion] pups have been responded to this year alone. We responded to 1,600 strandings total during the entire year in 2013," Justin Greenman, assistant stranding coordinator for NOAA on the west coast, told CNN.
Many of the stranded sea lions are “emaciated or dehydrated,” Greenman said.
The NOAA is unsure exactly what’s behind the increased number of strandings, but officials suspect that the warmer than usual weather is driving food sources farther out to sea. That means it takes longer for mother sea lions to find food for their young and that the moms often return without enough to feed all their pups.