MARIN COUNTY, Calif. (KTVU) - An unleashed dog attacked and killed a protected seal on a federal beach and authorities want to find the owner responsible.
It happened Monday April 22, at the Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County.
A necropsy two days later showed the young, female seal died of her bite wound injuries.
"Some were very deep, and to penetrate the chest, it has to be a pretty strong bite," said Cara Field, staff veterinarian at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito.
The seal was one not often seen on Bay Area beaches: a threatened Guadalupe Fur Seal, which for a time, was an endangered species.
"They have only just started to recover, their population is still very low," said Dr. Field.
The attack happened at North Beach, where prominent signs prohibit dogs from some areas, and allow them only on leash in others.
A visitor to the beach saw what happened to the seal, and alerted rangers and rescuers. When they arrived, the animal was dead and the dog and owner were gone.
"Multiple bite wounds penetrating the chest and lung and causing a lot of internal bleeding," said Dr. Field, "and it's very sad when this happens, very disappointing."
A week later, as the National Park Service investigates, beach visitors are surprised to hear of the killing.
"With most of the dogs I see here, everybody's great at taking care of their dogs," observed Tammy Ranta of Sacramento, who had spent the day at North Beach with her pup.
"She's the skittery type, she would never go foward anything, she would hide behind me," said Ranta, of her retriever mix Patsy.
But Ranta said the stranded seal is not a surprise; she had already seen one earlier in the day.
"We've been watching it all day, wondering if the water reaches it will it wake up and start moving, because it hasn't gone in the water."
The Guadalupe Fur Seal that was killed was only about 10 months old, and appeared thin and weak.
The species is down to about 30,000 and live most of their lives in open water, so to be grounded on the beach indicated distress.
"When they haul out onto the beach that often implies there's a health problem," said Dr. Field, "and we have seven other Guadalupe Fur Seals on site, that all stranded in similar condition, with severe malnutrition and all of them are thriving with care".
They will be released to help rebuild their species, which has been dwindling since it was almost hunted into extinction for its pelts.
The pup mauled to death might have had a chance too, had rescuers gotten to her before an off-leash dog.
"Of course if anybody saw something, we would encourage them to come forward so we can better understand the situation," said Field.
Experts say it's important to give ocean animals space and distance when they are spotted, and call rescuers as soon as possible.
The Marine Mammal Center hotline is (415) 289-SEAL
Fines and jail are possible for harassing a protected species, and penalties increase in the case of a death.
In this case, the owner of the dog may also want to have it examined, as it could contract disease from biting the seal.