A federal jury has convicted a McKinleyville man of breaking federal law by taking a harbor seal pup from Centerville Beach.
Kenneth Wayne Eller faces a year in jail and a $20,000 fine at his Sept. 18 sentencing, according to the U.S. Department of Justice Northern District of California. The conviction was made last week in U.S. Magistrate Court in Eureka.
Last year, Eller picked up the pup from the beach near Eureka and drove it to the Bear River Casino in Loleta, where he showed it off in the parking lot. Eller also took the animal to friends' homes and kept it overnight.
A casino worker and a volunteer with the Northcoast Marine Mammal Center in Crescent City called authorities, and the pup was turned over to the center the next day. It died about a week later.
Center director Lanni Hall attributed the pup's death to the lethargic, dehydrated condition it arrived in after the time that Eller held it.
"It was in terrible shape when we received it," Hall said. "This pup was just stressed to the point of severe physiological distress."
People bring about 25 percent of the animals that come into the center each year, picking them up off area shores in mistaken efforts to save them.
Eller's case, though, was different.
"This was extreme," Hall said. "We've just never seen a pup go through that kind of treatment."
Unlike land mammals such as dogs, marine mammals especially babies need isolated, quiet environments with little human contact in order to recover from illnesses and injuries.