SEATTLE -- NOAA Fisheries is offering a big reward for information that leads to a conviction for a series of sea lion shootings in West Seattle.
More than a dozen sea lions have been shot in King and Kitsap counties since September.
NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement continues to look for suspects. Investigators hope a $20,000 reward will give them the break they need.
Sea lion shootings have become a regular occurrence in the Pacific Northwest during fall and winter, when male sea lions travel north from their rookeries in the Channel Islands in Southern California to feed, according to NOAA.
The number of shootings confirmed so far this winter is substantially greater than other recent years.
The MMPA prohibits harassment, hunting, capturing, or killing of marine mammals. However, the law contains exceptions allowing non-lethal methods to deter marine mammals from damaging private property, including fishing gear and catch, so long as it does not result in the death or serious injury of an animal.
Sea lions have grabbed headlines in recent months for being big competitors for chinook salmon -- something our dying southern resident orca population needs to survive. Activists fear that the shootings could be linked to vigilantes looking to take out sea lions to benefit our Puget Sound orcas.
If you have any information about the shootings, you're asked to call NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement at 206-526-4300.
Sea lions are federally protected animals. You could face hefty fines and up to a year in prison if you're caught harming them.