Jordan Gerbich, 30, who now lives in Utah, shot the marine mammal in the head with a handgun on Sept. 28, 2019, near San Simeon on California’s central coast. Gerbich’s federal public defender did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday night.
But the attorney wrote in a court document ahead of sentencing that the killing was “so unusual and troubling” that Gerbich was shocked. He cited a past history of substance abuse and childhood physical abuse and neglect that left him with a need for approval.
Gerbich shot the seal after an intoxicated friend, “as a kind of grotesque test,” demanded he kill an animal, according to that document.
Prosecutors wrote that the killing “did not happen by accident or on a whim,” that they drove to a place where they knew elephant seals haul out, and that Gerbich brought a handgun.
The shooting happened at night, and Gerbich used a flashlight in shooting it, officials said. The seal was found shot in the head with its tail fins cut off and cut open, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had said.
Northern elephant seals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Commercial hunting almost pushed the species to extinction around 1900, but their numbers have recovered, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Gerbich was sentenced to three months in prison, followed by three months’ home detention. He will be on supervised release for one year, have to perform 120 hours of community service, and pay a $1,000 fine, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said.
He pleaded guilty to a count of taking a marine mammal, a federal misdemeanor, in December.