A man who admitted to fatally shooting an elephant seal on a California beach last year is facing a possible prison term. The animals are among the species protected under a federal law.
Jordan Gerbich, 30, who now lives in Utah, pleaded guilty Monday to a count of taking a marine mammal, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said in a statement.
Prosecutors are recommending a six-month sentence, three of which could be served as home confinement, according to a plea agreement, but the federal misdemeanor carries a possible maximum of a year in prison. A judge will determine the sentence at a hearing set for April.
It is not clear in court documents why Gerbich shot the animal. His federal public defender declined to comment Wednesday evening, and a phone number for Gerbich could not be found.
Gerbich drove to an elephant seal viewing area near San Simeon on California’s central coast with a flashlight and a .45-caliber pistol on Sept. 28, 2019, and shot the seal as it rested on the beach, according to court documents.
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The seal was discovered shot in the head with its tail fins cut off, and it had been cut open, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had said. The agency had offered a $20,000 reward for information in the killing.
Gerbich confessed to NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement after his home was searched in January, the plea agreement says.
Northern elephant seals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Commercial hunting almost pushed the species to extinction around 1900, but their numbers have recovered, according to NOAA.
They are named elephant seals because males have an inflatable nose that they use to sound louder when trying to threaten and intimidate rivals during the breeding season.