A man who fatally admitted to shooting an elephant seal on a California beach last year faces a possible jail sentence. The animals are among the species protected under a federal law.
Jordan Gerbich, 30, now living in Utah, pleaded guilty Monday to a count of having taken a marine mammal, the U.S. attorney for the Central District of California said in a statement.
Prosecutors recommend a six-month sentence, three of which could serve as home detention under a prayer agreement, but the federal offense carries a maximum of one year in prison. A judge will determine the verdict at a hearing set for April.
It is not clear in the court documents why Gerbich shot the animal. His federal public defender declined to comment Wednesday night, 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 September 28, 2019, and shot the seal as it rested on the beach, according to court documents.
The seal was discovered shot in the head with the tail fin cut off and it had been cut up, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had said. The agency had offered a reward of $ 20,000 for information in the killing.
Gerbich confessed to NOAA’s law enforcement office after his home was completed in January, the prayer agreement says.
Seals of northern elephants are protected under the Marine Pattal Protection Act. Commercial hunting nearly pushed the species to extinction around 1900, but their numbers have 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.