An animal shooter who confessed to gunning down an elephant seal on a California beach last year might be sent to jail for the crime, under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The law cites that elephant seals fall under the category of protected species, and the penalty of hunting it down might possibly be a prison term.

Jordan Gerbich, 30, a resident of Utah, reportedly pleaded guilty on Monday to a count of shooting a marine mammal on a beach near San Simeon.

 The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California released a statement which read: “Gerbich admitted in his plea agreement that he drove to an elephant seal viewing area adjacent to the Piedras Blancas Marine Reserve and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary near San Simeon on Sept. 28, 2019. Gerbich brought a .45-caliber pistol and, aided with a flashlight, used the firearm to shoot and kill a northern elephant seal. The next day, the elephant seal was discovered on the beach with a bullet hole in its head.”

The statement suggested how a maximum sentence of one year in federal prison is likely – “Northern elephant seals are a protected species under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. They live up and down North America’s Pacific coast and haul out on land in areas called rookeries.

These rookeries are typically populated with elephant seals year-round, but populations vary throughout the year based on breeding and molting cycles. United States District Judge Dale S. Fischer has scheduled an April 12, 2021 sentencing hearing, at which time Gerbich will face a statutory maximum sentence of one year in federal prison.”

While Gerbich pleaded guilty after the NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement probed his home in January, the actual reason behind what led to the act remains unknown. His public defender refused to comment further. Gerbich was reportedly unreachable for his side of the story.

On the other hand, prosecutors are also considering a six-month sentence, three of which could be served as home confinement, as per a plea agreement. But, considering how the federal misdemeanor carries a possible maximum of a year in prison, the final call will be taken by a judge at a hearing that’s scheduled in April.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had offered a $20,000 reward for information in the killing. Commercial hunting almost pushed the species on the brink of extinction – at around 1900. But, their numbers have significantly recovered.

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