Man admits to shooting dead elephant seal on California beach and could be sentenced to prison

A man who admitted to fatally shooting an elephant seal on a California beach last year is facing a possible prison sentence. Animals are among the species protected by federal law.

Jordan Gerbich, 30, who now lives in Utah, pleaded guilty on Monday to an accusation of capturing a marine mammal, the California District Attorney’s Office said in a statement.

Prosecutors are recommending a six-month sentence, three of which could be served under house arrest, according to a plea bargain, but the federal misdemeanor could lead to a maximum of one year in prison. A judge will determine the sentence at a hearing scheduled for April.

It is not clear from court documents why Gerbich shot the animal. His federal public defender declined to comment on Wednesday night, and a phone number for Gerbich was not found.

Gerbich drove to an elephant seal observation area near San Simeon, on the central California coast, with a flashlight and a .45 caliber pistol on September 28, 2019, and shot the seal while it rested on the beach, according to court documents.

The seal was discovered with a shot to the head, with the tail fins cut off, and was opened, said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The agency offered a $ 20,000 reward for information about the murder.

Gerbich confessed to the NOAA Law Enforcement Office after his home was searched in January, says the plea agreement.

Northern elephant seals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Commercial hunting nearly led the species to extinction around 1900, but its number has recovered, according to NOAA.

They are called 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.