A man who went to an elephant seal viewing area in California and killed one of the protected animals with a handgun could get up to a year in prison. Prosecutors say 30-year-old Jordan Gerbich, who now lives in Utah, has pleaded guilty to taking a marine mammal, NBC reports. According to a Department of Justice release, Gerbich admitted killing the female seal at Piedras Blancas Marine Reserve and Monterey Bay National Marine sanctuary in September last year. "Gerbich brought a .45-caliber pistol and, aided with a flashlight, used the firearm to shoot and kill a northern elephant seal," the release states. "The next day, the elephant seal was discovered on the beach with a bullet hole in its head."
Gerbich will be sentenced in April. Prosecutors have recommended a six-month sentence under a plea deal, with three months in home confinement, but the judge will have the option of giving him the maximum sentence of a year. Northern elephant seals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was offering a $20,000 reward for information in the case. The agency says the slain animal was found with its tail hacked off and its chest cavity cut open, but Gerbich wasn't charged with mutilating the seal, the Santa Barbara Independent reports. NBC reports the court documents didn't outline Gerbich's motive. (During the government shutdown in early 2019, elephant seals took over a beach.)