NOAA Increases Reward Up To $20,000 In Search For Steller Sea Lion Shootings In Copper River Delta

The following is courtesy of NOAA Fisheries Alaska:

A NOAA Fisheries marine mammal specialist examines a dead Steller sea lion pup found on a beach in the Copper River Delta. Credit: NOAA Fisheries

Note: NOAA Fisheries has revised the original web story posted on July 26, 2023, to better reflect the original intent. At this point we don’t know who is responsible for the recent marine mammal mortalities, and our language in the original web story wrongly implied that we knew fishermen were at fault. 

Multiple endangered Steller sea lions have been found dead with evidence of human interactions along the Copper River Delta this summer. These animals do not appear to have been struck and lost during subsistence hunting by Alaska Natives, which is allowed under federal law. As of June 2, seven animals had been found, some with evidence of gunshot wounds or other human interactions. Since then, at least 15 additional Steller sea lions have been reported or found during surveys conducted by NOAA Fisheries in collaboration with the United States Coast Guard. Some had evidence of gunshot wounds. Investigations are underway on all of these mortalities. The number of carcasses seen this summer during NOAA surveys on the Copper River Delta is greater than during previous years’ efforts. 

Report violations when you see them. NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement is offering an increased reward amount of up to $20,000 for information that leads to a civil penalty or criminal conviction in these killings. Anyone with information about the illegal killing of endangered Steller sea lions or protected harbor seals in the Copper River Delta should contact the investigating agent at (907) 250-5188 or through NOAA’s Enforcement Hotline at (800) 853-1964. To report dead, injured, or stranded marine mammals, call the Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Network at (877) 925-7773. When reporting a stranded marine mammal, please include the following information: 

  • Date
  • Location of stranding (including latitude and longitude)
  • Number of animals
  • Condition of the animal (alive or dead)
  • Species (if known) 

Photos or videos taken from a safe and legal distance can also provide valuable information to stranding network responders. Only trained and permitted responders should approach or pick up a stranded marine mammal.

The western population of Steller sea lions is protected under the Endangered Species Act, which prohibits harassing, harming, or killing listed species. Killing marine mammals is also a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Shooting seals and sea lions is against the law unless you are an Alaska Native subsistence harvesting for food or handicraft. The population of these endangered Steller sea lions is in decline. Protect seals and sea lions and don’t illegally shoot seals and sea lions.

NOAA Fisheries Sadie Wright uses a metal detector to examine a dead Steller sea lion found on a beach in the Copper River Delta. Credit: NOAA Fisheries
A NOAA Fisheries marine mammal specialist uses a metal detector to examine a dead Steller sea lion found on a beach in the Copper River Delta. Credit: NOAA Fisheries

Illegal killing of a seal or sea lion may result in:

  • Spending up to a year in jail
  • Forfeiture of your vessel
  • Paying criminal fines and civil penalties

More Information