Seal-slashing 'wacko' hunted in New York 3 animals die after washing ashore

January 29, 1995|By New York Times News Service

HAMPTON BAYS, N.Y. -- Someone is slashing, stabbing and bludgeoning harbor seals, authorities say, and federal, state and Suffolk County officials are combing shorelines and fishing grounds from Montauk to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to find out who.

Since November, three harbor seals have died after washing ashore with puncture wounds, slash marks and bruises. Authorities say they don't know how many other attacks may have occurred.

One theory is that it could be fishermen, who sometimes kill seals that become trapped in their nets. But the authorities say they can't imagine why anyone would have gone to the extreme of brutalizing these seals and then leaving them to die.

"It must be some wacko," said Scott A. Doyle, a special agent for the National Marine Fisheries Service who is heading the federal investigation. "A person would have to be disturbed to do this."

Mr. Doyle said he was checking fishing vessels at dockside, looking for bloodstains, seal hair and a long sharp knife. "We are kind of thinking that whoever did the slashing may have hurt or killed other animals."

At the Okeanos Ocean Research Foundation here, where the third seal, a young female, died last weekend, a $10,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the attackers.

"These are not just attempts to kill," said Samuel S. Sadove, the foundation's research director. "These are attempts to make the animal suffer. It's pretty bizarre."

Mr. Sadove said that more than one attacker might be involved because wounds showed that the animals had been held down while being slashed.

Kim Durham, an animal-care biologist at Okeanos, said the attacks were similar. "Most of the wounds were toward the hind end, as if the animal were fleeing or was put in a situation where it couldn't turn around," she said. She said it was possible that the seals were attacked while they hung from fishing nets. But she added: "None of these seals had net marks. That's the big mystery."

Mr. Sadove said 300 sutures were needed to close wounds on the female seal, found Jan. 9 on the beach in Kismet, a Fire Island community.

In the other cases, a young male harbor seal was found near the Staten Island side of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge on Nov. 8. On Nov. 29, another young male washed up near Davis Park, also on Fire Island. The authorities believe the seal found on Staten Island was attacked on the South Shore of Long Island.

Harbor seals, which weigh from 30 to 40 pounds, are found throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Unlike many other marine

mammals, the harbor seal is not an endangered or threatened species. The seals are prey for sharks and are occasionally killed or injured by boat propellers, but Mr. Sadove said he had never seen attacks like these.

"I've been doing this for 20 years, and I've never seen this kind of behavior before," he said. "It's disturbing. This is not a person I want running around on the streets."

Some commercial fishermen regard harbor seals as pests because seals caught in nets eat fish trapped with them.

"We've had some isolated situations through the years where we have recovered animals with bullet holes, and once we recovered the body of a seal that had no head," Ms. Durham said.

"You are going to get harbor seals in the nets, there's no way that can't happen," she said. "But most of the time the fishermen report it."

The authorities said they expected the reward to bring information leading to an arrest. Federal penalties provide for a two-year jail terms and a $10,000 fine for each attack.

"There are people out there who will turn in their brother for $10,000," said Capt. Robert M. Muller of the Suffolk County Police Marine Bureau. "What it will probably be is some guy talking in a bar about what he's doing."

Captain Muller said police officers patrolling Fire Island beaches were looking out for injured seals. Federal officials patrol beaches within the Fire Island National Seashore.

Lt. David L. Holt of the Coast Guard station in Moriches said Coast Guard boarding parties have increased inspections of fishing vessels off the South Shore in search of the attackers or information leading to them.

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