11/30/2012 02:41 EST | Updated 11/30/2012 05:01 EST

Sea Lion Shot, Decapitated In Campbell River, BC (GRAPHIC PHOTOS)


The remains of a sea lion, who had been shot and decapitated, were found on a beach in Campbell River earlier this month.

The animal suffered several gunshot wounds and then had its head removed after it died, said Paul Cottrell, a spokesman for Fisheries and Oceans on Friday. The carcass was found almost a week ago on Tyee Spit, on the east coast of Vancouver Island.

"It's hard to know why someone would do that," Cottrell said in an interview with The Huffington Post B.C.

Cottrell said the Marine Mammal Response Network receives reports of such cases several times a year along B.C.'s vast coast. Sometimes sea lions and harbour seals die of natural causes and then wash up on beaches where they're scavenged, he said.

But this case is concerning because it appears the sea lion was in good shape and the head was removed from a fresh carcass, said Cottrell.

It's illegal under marine mammal regulations to "disturb or kill" such creatures without a licence. Anyone caught violating that law can be prosecuted under the Federal Fisheries Act.

However, it's difficult to track down suspects often because of the isolated locations of where the sea animals are found. Fisheries officers have to rely on possible witnessses to come forward with information such as hearing shots fired or seeing people coming and going on boats, said Cottrell.

With files from The Canadian Press

WARNING: Graphic photos:

B.C. Sea Lion Shot, Decapitated (GRAPHIC)