Santa Cruz County

UPDATE: Reward for Santa Cruz County sea otter killings doubled

Sea otters shot to death, $10K reward offered

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY, Calif. - UPDATE 9/1/2016 4:23 PM: On Thursday, the reward being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for killing three sea otters in Santa Cruz County was doubled.

Oakland-based non-profit the Center for Biological Diversity said it is adding an additional $10,000, pushing the total reward to $20,000.

"Shooting California sea otters is a despicable act of cruelty and ignorance," said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director at the Center. "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."

Anyone with information should call the CalTIP Line at 1-888-334-2258 or 650-876-9078.

PREVIOUS STORY: Three sea otters were shot and killed this summer and washed ashore in Santa Cruz County, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Investigators said they were found dead between the Santa Cruz Harbor and Seacliff State Beach between August 12 and 19.

Fish and Wildlife is asking for help identifying those responsible.

"It's rare. It's very rare--gunshot, probably on average one per year; killed by ships, two to three," said Max Schad from California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

That's why investigators are confused--four otters were found dead--three shot.

"It's rare because sea otters aren't a species that's hunted, or there's no commercialization of sea otters because they are protected animal, both federally and state protected and they are generally not killed by people with guns," Schad said.

Sea otters were hunted almost to extinction in the 1800s, and the population has been slowly recovering.

They are an important part of the ecosystem.

"Sea otters are actually considered a keystone species, meaning that they are very important to the ecosystem. If they fall out of the ecosystem, the entire ecosystem can essentially collapse," Schad said. "They are also what's called a sentinel species, which means that their health is an indicator of the health of the entire ecosystem."

The community is also in shock.

"It's surprising. That's more common to hear seals being shot, but not otters," said Santa Cruz resident Brian Easley.

"I'm really horrified. I can't understand why anybody would feel that that would be an OK thing to do. I mean, it's well-known that the wildlife here is protected," said Seabright resident Maryanne Campbell

Sea otters are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and anyone found guilty of killing a southern sea otter could face up to $100,000 in fines and time in jail.

Initial reports indicate the otters were shot and died several days before washing ashore, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory.

A $10,000 reward is being offered for information. The reward is being offered by CDFW, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and a private donor.

Anyone with information should call the CalTIP Line at 1-888-334-2258 or 650-876-9078.

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