Seal pup beheaded, skinned on Fort Worden grounds

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — Marine mammal scientists are looking for clues into the beheading and skinning of a seal pup in a parking area of Fort Worden State Park last week.

Ironically, the carcass was discovered near the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, which is devoted to the research and preservation of such sea creatures as harbor seals.

“I was shocked when I saw this,” said Chrissy McLean, marine science center program coordinator who is also principal investigator for the East Jefferson County Marine Mammal Stranding Network. “I had never seen anything like this before.”

The pup’s carcass was reported by a beach walker early Wednesday morning to McLean.

“Part of my job is to investigate how animals die, and it hurts to see when an animal dies from unnecessary causes.”

McLean said the incident happened sometime between 3:30 p.m. Tuesday and 8:45 a.m. Wednesday in a beach parking lot near the Fort Worden pier.

The animal did not die of natural causes or suffer at the hands of a predator, McLean said.

It was treated in a way that suggested human intervention, she added.

The male pup was most likely born in the spring and had probably been weaned, but that could not be determined because the head was missing, she said.

The pup’s skin, which can have value on the black market, was removed and its organs were exposed.

McLean said she thought the skin could be sold for around $150, but possessing or selling such an item is illegal.

She said seals often come up on the beach to rest and could be easily caught, but it is illegal for humans to touch them.

The carcass was found near the end of the pier in an area where seals would normally not beach themselves, McLean said.

Blood could be found in several spots that were not directly adjacent to the area.

McLean contacted the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Law Enforcement and state Department of Fish and Wildlife officers, who opened an investigation and will be pursuing the case.

The carcass was removed and McLean staked the area where it was found so the investigator could gather evidence.

The “crime scene” tape was removed Friday afternoon.

All marine mammals are federally protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and it is illegal to harvest or possess marine mammal parts without a permit.

Violation of the act is subject to a civil penalty of up to $10,000 per violation, while an intentional violation is subject to a criminal penalty of up to $20,000 per violation, imprisonment for one year or both.

McLean said she was uncertain whether similar incidents had occurred elsewhere, and encouraged anyone with knowledge of the incident to phone her at the marine science center at 360-385-5582, ext. 109.

Information on the case or suspicious behavior can also be reported to the NOAA enforcement hotline at 800-853-1964.

________

Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or charlie.bermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: October 02. 2011 1:07AM
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