10 sea lions confirmed shot in Puget Sound, and that number could grow

SEATTLE -- Another sea lion was shot in the Puget Sound, among at least 16 that have died from "acute trauma" caused by humans since September.

Officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Monday that a sea lion found dead earlier this month was confirmed via a necropsy to have been shot.

The findings bring the total number of sea lions shot since early fall to at least 10. The actual number may be higher, as decomposition sometimes impedes officials' ability to determine an animal's cause of death.

NOAA Fisheries law enforcement agents are investigating the crimes, which are prohibited under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. So far, no suspects have been identified.

The 16 sea dead sea lions have been found in the waters off of King and Kitsap counties.

Officials worry there may be more, as the Marine Mammal Stranding Network has several reports of more dead sea lions from other counties. The stranding network is gathering data and plans to release a full report of all the deaths shortly.

It's unusual to have so many deaths at this time in the year, NOAA officials said. Between 1998 and 2017, National Geographic magazine reported that up to 700 California sea lions were found with gunshot and stab wounds in waters off California, Oregon and Washington.

To report a marine mammal violation, call 1-800-853-1964. To report a dead, injured or stranded mammal, call: 1-866-767-6114.