WEST SEATTLE, Wash. (CIRCA via KOMO) -- A team performed necropsies Thursday on the carcasses of two California sea lions that washed up on the shores of West Seattle earlier this week.
In all, five dead California sea lions have been discovered along the shores of West Seattle since late September, a NOAA spokesman told KOMO News.
Investigators are now trying to figure out why.
"I was just standing there and looking at one alive and one dead," said Cuong Le, who watched the necropsies as they were performed.
The heartbreaking contrast caught Le's eye on his daily trip to the shores of West Seattle to exercise.
A harbor seal was taking a break on the dock near him just feet away from a team of investigators as they tried to figure out how a California sea lion died.
"This is something wrong, but I don't know what's wrong and what's right," Le said. "So, I'm still observing."
"For that many to be showing up dead in this area is quite unusual," said Casey McLean, Co-Executive Director of SR3 (Sealife Response + Rehab + Research).
McLean is part of a team that's trying to figure out why it's happening. Typically, one to two dead sea lions appear on the shores of West Seattle each year, she said.
As part of the necropsy, the team looks for signs of parasites, disease, or wounds, McLean said.
Investigators say so far they know two of the sea lions were shot to death.
"They have something to teach us about their environment. If there’s toxins in the water that they’re accumulating. If there’s human interactions problems, we need to document that and know what’s going on and be able to find a problem to mitigate that problem," McLean said.
The federal government has strict laws to keep people from approaching or interfering with marine mammals.
Penalties for killing a sea lion can include thousands of dollars in fines and prison time.
"It's really tough to get over this situation," Le said.
It breaks his heart to see so many California sea lions die in such a short amount of time.
"I think this is a chance for humans to see what impact when they see a dead sea lion, you know? It impact the heart. It’s not just the environment," Le said. "Right now, I’m learning something from today. Like I’m learning that life need love. And love connects everyone together."
A hotline was set up for witnesses to call if they have information about who is killing the marine mammals. To help, call 1-800-853-1964.