SANTA CRUZ COUNTY, Calif. (KTVU) - The reward for information in the killing of three sea otters killed in Santa Cruz has been increased to $20,000.
Center for Biological Diversity added another $10,000 to the reward on Thursday.
“Shooting California sea otters is a despicable act of cruelty and ignorance,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director at the Center. “These shootings aren’t just a crime against these otters but against nature and, indeed, all of those who value California’s stunning beauty and wildlife.”
Earlier in the week, authorities said three sea otters were found shot to death on the Santa Cruz coast. Their bodies washed ashore on several beaches in a matter of days.
The U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife Service had already offered a $10,000 reward to find whoever is responsible. Officers found a fourth sea otter and are determining if it was killed by gunfire.
Beach goers call it a treat to find sea otters in the water. The fury mammals are often seen floating on their backs.
"They are just very cute," said Mike Westphal of Hollister. "They are a great poster animal for the bay, for biodiversity and wildlife in general. What's not to love about otters."
Yet, authorities said, four male sea otters washed up dead this month. They confirm three were killed by at least one gunshot, another suspected. All four of them were reported by visitors.
The first otter was found along 19th and 20th Avenue in Santa Cruz on August 12. Three days later, a juvenile otter was found Twin Lakes State Beach. Then officers found another juvenile on Seacliff State Beach on August 19. The last otter was discovered August 20 at Natural Bridges.
"It's very unfortunate, it's very tragic," said Max Schad of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. "Sea otters play a very integral part in the ecosystem of California's beaches and they are actually considered a keystone species."
Southern sea otters are protected as a threatened species under federal and state law. 3,000 of them living between the Santa Barbara and San Mateo coastline.
"It's pretty unique," said Schad. "The last time that three sea otters were found shot and killed was on Asilomar State Beach and that was in 2013."
That case on the Monterey Peninsula remains unsolved. The Fish and Game Service is conducting a necropsy on the otters to determine when they were killed and to recover the projectiles to determine what type of weapon was used. It's unclear if it's the same weapon even the same person behind the killings.
"My children loved coming here especially to see all the marine life and for someone to blatantly shoot them, it's horrible," said Lori Malone of Truckee.
"People who live here find all these things very precious," said Bobbie Gifford of Truckee."You don't live in this area without thinking of the sea life and the birds. It's sad."
Whoever is caught killing a sea otter faces a $100,000 fine and one-year jail sentence per otter. Anyone with information is asked to contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at (650) 876-9078.