A sea lion pup was kidnapped on a Los Angeles beach Sunday morning, a witness told police officers. Now, an investigation is underway to find the missing pup and its kidnappers.
Two pups that made their way onto Dockweiler State Beach were being harassed by a group of people at about 3:30 a.m., the witness said, according to Los Angeles Police Department officers. Reports stated that the group was throwing things at the sea lions, including cinder blocks.
They took a blanket out of a car, wrapped up one of the sea lions and took off with the animal in a black Honda Civic, police said.
When officers arrived, they found the second sea lion trying to make its way out of some bushes and back to shore. That pup was able to escape its attackers and was picked up by Marine Animal Rescue.
Keeping a sea lion is a federal crime, and can be very difficult and dangerous -- they bite harder than a pit bull and have "the dirtiest mouth of any mammal," said Peter Wallerstein of Marine Animal Rescue, who said this was his 321st rescue of the year, more than the entirety of 2014.
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"They could get bitten, they could get infected," Wallerstein said of the people who kidnapped the animal. "The sea lions can inflict a very serious bite."
The Marine Mammal Protection Act makes feeding and harassing sea lions illegal. An LAPD spokesman said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is a federal agency that tracks sea lion strandings in Southern California, is investigating the possible kidnapping.
The sea lion attackers and kidnappers could face fines up to $10,000 and possibly up to one year jail time.
Sea lion strandings and interactions with humans have been much more frequent than normal in the last few years. Last week, a sea lion walked about five blocks to a San Diego-area high school.
A rescue group in Laguna Beach said they are treating twice as many malnourished sea lions as last year. Statewide, rescue centers have taken in more than 1,600 marine mammals, which is three to four times the normal average.
"We've doubled our rescues and there seems to be no end in sight," Wallerstein told NBC4 in March.
Scientists think warmer-than-usual ocean waters are pushing away sea lions' favored foods, leaving them struggling to find something to eat.
"These sea lions need a specialized food supply," Wallerstein said.
Wallerstein said underfed sea lions get out out of and as far away from the water as possible because they don't have as much body fat as they should and get cold easily.
If you see a sea lion or seal, call lifeguards or marine mammal rescue, but don't go near it, he said.
City News Service contributed to this report.