SEATTLE -- Wildlife officials report at least 8 sea lions have been found shot to death in the Puget Sound region in recent weeks.

Both the Washington's Department of Fish and Wildlife and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are investigating the deaths. The bodies of seven sea lions were recently found on the Nisqually River, all apparently shot. On Monday, a mature male California sea lion was found dead on West Seattle's Lincoln Park beach.

During a necropsy, Washington Department of Fish andWildlife removed a bullet from the left lung lobe of that sea lion, according to the animal protection group Seal Sitters.

Investigators said they do not know who killed the sea lions. The penalty for poaching a sea lion could range from fees to possible jail time.

California sea lions are a protected species under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Stellar sea lions are a federally protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Almost two years ago, five sea lions were found shot to death on West Seattle beaches. In that instance, the Humane Society offerred a $2,500 reward for information leading to an arrest.

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