— -- A $5,000 reward is being offered for information that leads to the arrest of four thieves who took a baby sea lion from a beach in Los Angeles.
The Los Angeles Police Department said that the suspects were seen taking a baby sea lion from Dockweiler State Beach in Playa Del Rey early Sunday morning at around 3 a.m. Today, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said it is offering the $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the culprits. The organization encourages anyone with information to contact the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's hotline at 1-800-853-1964.
"PETA is urging anyone with information about this kidnapping to come forward immediately so that if this pup is alive, he or she can receive medical care and hopefully be returned to the sea," PETA senior director Martin Mersereau said in a statement.
"When officers arrived they met with a witness who observed two male suspects and two female suspects harassing and taunting two baby sea lions at Dockweiler Beach," the police statement read. "The suspects were seen taking one baby sea lion, entered a vehicle and fled from the location with the baby sea lion." PETA said the suspects were reportedly seen throwing rocks and cinder blocks at the pup.
The suspects attempted to capture the second sea lion pup, but it put up a fight and got away, ABC affiliate in Los Angeles KABC reported. The car is described as a "dark," two-door Honda Civic with a California license plate ending in 56.
"The suspects are described as two male Hispanics and two female Hispanics" between the ages of 20 and 25 years old, the police statement read. The Marine Animal Rescue rescued the second baby sea lion, the police said.
Peter Wallerstein, director of Marine Animal Rescue, told KABC that seals are being stolen more often this year because of the record number of pups turning up sick along the Southern California coastlines.
"People have taken sea lion pups off the beach to bring them to a vet clinic of somewhere else for care," Wallerstein told ABC News. "Although their intentions were good, this is the wrong thing to do. In this case the people seemed to want the pup for themselves."
The LAPD is "initiating a cruelty to animal criminal investigation" and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is investigating, because the baby sea lion is a protected species under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.