Former Santa Barbara County resident gets 3 months in prison for fatally shooting elephant seal

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Elephant seals are seen on the Piedras Blancas' beach, near Carmel, Calif., on Dec. 25, 2006. Elephant seals come ashore and form colonies for only a few months of each year to give birth, breed and molt. The rest of the year, the colonies disperse and individuals spend most of their time in pursuit of food, a quest which involves swimming thousands of miles and diving to great depths. (GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP via Getty Images)

Elephant seals are seen on the Piedras Blancas’ beach, near Carmel, Calif., on Dec. 25, 2006. Elephant seals come ashore and form colonies for only a few months of each year to give birth, breed and molt. The rest of the year, the colonies disperse and individuals spend most of their time in pursuit of food, a quest which involves swimming thousands of miles and diving to great depths. (GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP via Getty Images)

A federal judge sentenced a former Santa Barbara County resident to three months in prison Monday for fatally shooting a northern elephant seal in the head in 2019, prosecutors announced.

Jordan Gerbich, 30, drove to an elephant viewing area next to Piedras Blancas Marine Reserve and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary near San Simeon on Sept. 28, 2019, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California. He brought a .45-caliber pistol and a flashlight.

Gerbich opened fire on an elephant seal resting on the beach in the Piedras Blancas rookery, leaving the mammal with a bullet wound to the head.

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

In December 2020, the former Santa Maria resident pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of illegally taking a marine mammal. Gerbich now lives in Coalville, Utah.

After serving federal prison time, Gerbich must undergo one year of supervised release including three months of home detention and 120 hours of community service. He also has a $1,000 fine.

Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, northern elephant seals are a protected species. These endangered mammals live along the Pacific coast of North America and haul out on land in areas called rookeries, which see fluctuations in seal populations based on breeding and molting cycles.

The fatal shooting was investigated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Law Enforcement. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife also assisted.

Correction: A previous version of this story had a headline that gave an incorrect prison sentence term. The post has been updated.

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