Man Sentenced to Three Months for Killing California Elephant Seal

In 2019, authorities discovered the corpse of a northern elephant seal on a beach near San Simeon, California. The animal had been shot in the head.

A female elephant seal equipped with two data-logging tags. (Photo by Martín Ignacio Brogger)

LOS ANGELES (CN) — A California federal judge sentenced a man to three months in prison for fatally shooting a northern elephant seal on a Central Coast beach two years ago.

Authorities discovered the corpse of the northern elephant seal on a beach near San Simeon, California, in 2019. 

A joint National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and California Department of Fish and Wildlife investigation determined the animal had been shot in the head.

Federal prosecutors charged Jordan Gerbich, 30, in August 2020 with fatally shooting the marine mammal. 

The former Santa Maria, California, resident told prosecutors that on the evening of Sept. 28, 2019, he drove to an elephant seal observation area adjacent to the Piedras Blancas Marine Reserve and Monterey Bay National Marine sanctuary near San Simeon.

Gerbich, now a resident of Utah, then used a .45-caliber pistol he had purchased to shoot and kill the female elephant seal, according to a plea agreement.

Prosecutors could not establish a motive for the criminal act.

“It remains unclear what motivated [Gerbich] to commit such an act; nevertheless, [Gerbich] knew it was wrong,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum.

This past December, Gerbich pleaded guilty in a Central District of California courtroom to a single count of taking a marine mammal.

In a hearing Monday, U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer sentenced Gerbich to three months in federal prison.

On top of the prison sentence, Gerbich will serve three months of house arrest and a year of supervised probation, must perform 120 hours of community service and pay a $1,000 fine.

Northern elephant seals are found along North America’s Pacific coast, with a range that stretches as far north as Alaska and as far south as Mexico. Large gatherings of the seals — including adult males that can weigh up to 4,400 pounds and reach 19 feet in length — are typically found along the Pacific coast in areas called rookeries. 

The seals populate the rookeries year-round though numbers can vary based on breeding and molting cycles for the seals, which are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Northern elephant seals — scientific name Mirounga angustirostris — typically spend nine months of each year in the ocean, dining mainly on squid and fish. When the elephant seals arrive at their breeding beaches in Mexico and California, adult males can be seen fighting each other and producing loud nasal calls to establish dominance.

The main threats faced by the mammals include becoming entangled in fishing gear and being struck by ocean vessels. 

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