Federal and state wildlife officials are investigating after a sea otter was found dead and skinned on San Luis Obispo County beach, authorities said Wednesday.
The southern sea otter’s carcass was discovered on Arroyo de la Cruz Beach in San Simeon on Sept. 26, according to a news release from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The carcass had been skinned, and animals and insects had scavenged the remains before it was collected by authorities.
A necropsy did not immediately determine a cause of death for the sea otter, believed to be a young adult female, according to the release.
Authorities are also trying to figure out whether the animal had been killed, and who skinned her.
Killing a California sea otter is punished with a possible jail sentence and fines of up to $100,000, according to the release. It is also illegal to remove or possess a pelt without a permit, even if the sea otter was already deceased.
The marine mammal is protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, as well as by a California state law; southern sea otters — also known as California sea otters — are also considered depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the release stated.
They were listed as threatened in 1977, and while they once were spotted in areas outside of the state, they currently populate coastal areas between Santa Barbara County and San Mateo County, according to wildlife officials. A small subpopulation also exists further south off Ventura County, around San Nicolas Island.
Anyone with information about the case is urged to contact the California Department of Fish and Wildlife at the CalTIP line at 1-888-334-2258, or a special agent of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at 916-569-8444.
Officials also encourage those who find a dead or injured sea otter in California to leave it, photograph it if possible, and immediately contact the state’s fish and wildlife department at 805-772-1135 to report it.