Officials 'don't know' cause of sea lion's death

An investigation by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) into the death of a male sea lion discovered last week at Wipeout Beach in La Jolla with a suspicious wound near its heart was inconclusive.

NOAA spokesman Jim Milbury said Monday afternoon it was decided that the deceased marine mammal couldn't be transported safely to get X-rays done.

"We don't know if it had a bullet wound or not," he said. "We're still looking to talk with someone willing to come forward who has more information so we can determine whether there was any foul play."

San Diego Lifeguard spokesman Nick Lerma said the sea lion was buried on the beach on Sunday, a day after a NOAA biologist was called out to inspect the body.

"We have no idea what caused the hole," said Lerma.

Lerma said the dead marine mammal was discovered on the beach south of the Children's Pool on June 17. At least one TV news report indicated swimmers who found the mammal brought it to shore, although Lerma did not confirm the report.

Cindy Benner, president, La Jolla Friends of Seals, said there is video of the wound, which she said looks suspiciously like a bullet hole.

"It is totally circular with no jagged edges," she said. "I would guess that the animal was shot somewhere else."

At least one TV news report indicated swimmers who found the mammal brought it to shore, but Lerma said he could not confirm that.

NOAA's Web site states: "California sea lions are members of the "eared seal" family … They have broad foreflippers and a long, narrow snout."

They differ from "true seals (which) lack external ear flaps and have short forelimbs that result in limited locomotion on land," according to the site.

Like seals, sea lions are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.

But NOAA's site notes that they are "sometimes viewed as a nuisance by commercial fishermen and there are records of stranded sea lions with gunshot wounds and other human-caused injuries."

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