Officials are looking into who may have been behind the gruesome skinning of a sea otter in San Luis Obispo County.
SFGate reports that late last month, a dead, skinned sea otter was found on San Simeon's Arroyo de la Cruz beach. Wildlife officials believe that this otter was a Southern sea otter, otherwise known as a California sea otter, an endangered, threatened species. This means that there's a heavy punishment for poachers: a $100,000 fine and possible jail time. Furthermore, ABC News points out that it's still illegal to skin it for its pelt even if it's already dead.
Before the Southern sea otters were designated a threatened species, they could be found beyond California's waters. But the San Luis Obispo's Tribune says that they're now mostly found between San Mateo County and Santa Barbara County. Last year, the Mercury reported that the sea otters saw record breaking population numbers, with 3,272 counted in the USGS' report. They go on to say that this is the first time that the population has exceeded the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services' population number requirement for getting off the endangered species list (3,090). To no longer be considered endangered, the population of animals has to meet or exceed this number for three years straight.
There's no word yet on whether this single skinned otter could be one of more poached otters, but officials don't seem to be ruling anything out. The Department of Fish and Wildlife have asked that anyone with information about this killing or any others to please call their anonymous tip line at 1-888-569-8444.