POINT REYES, Calif. (KGO) -- At first glance, Point Reyes' pristine North Beach, looks quiet, and, besides a few visitors, relatively empty. But look closer and you'll see there are signs of life everywhere and the effort to protect it.
"People should be aware of how sensitive it is, not only the ecology and tearing it up, but also the wildlife," said Maria Rooney, who is visiting from New Hampshire.
Rooney and other visitors to North Beach were dismayed to learn that last week, on April 22nd, an off-leash dog killed a rarely seen Guadalupe fur seal pup. The threatened species was hunted to near-extinction in the 1800s and have recently been making a slow recovery.
The person who was walking the dog was described as a woman in her 50's, who walked with a cane, with shoulder-length dark shaggy hair with grey in it. The dog was described as medium-sized, with long black and white hair. No breed was identified.
The first thing you see as you enter North Beach is a sign, which clearly states that because of the Western Snowy Plover breeding area, no dogs are allowed on the north side of the beach. The sign says that dogs on a leash, are allowed on the south side of the beach. But, nowhere does it say that dogs without a leash are allowed anywhere.
"Dogs get into prey mode when they see a little furry animal and they will attack," said Ed Rooney, who is a veterinarian visiting from New Hampshire. He's noticed signs all over Point Reyes National Seashore with rules for dogs and their owners.
The Park Service says the dog attacked the fur seal in a snowy plover nesting area, where dogs are not allowed.
"Which is a shame. You wish everybody had full control, but obviously in this case they didn't," said Rooney.
"She died because the trauma was so extensive to her chest and it caused a lot of damage to her lungs and that likely made it unable for her to breath," said Dr. Cara Field, who is a vet at The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito. As soon as a visitor reported the incident, The Marine Mammal Center's response team tried to rescue the injured pup, but it was too late... the animal had already died.
Dr. Field says the 10 month old female seal pup was thin and malnourished which likely made her weaker and more susceptible to attack.
"When it's a threatened species or an endangered species, that becomes even more of a problem because those animals are just trying to recover as a whole, so anything we can do to reduce our interaction with them is really appreciated. Especially a young female like this, she had potential to contribute to the population."
The dog owner and dog allegedly left the beach after the attack.
The Park service is investigating.
For a dogwalker who is walking their dog in a closed area (no dog area), or walking their dog off leash in a leash only area, they are subject to a Class B misdemeanor, maximum punishable up to $5000 fine or 6 months in jail.
For a dogwalker who is walking their dog off leash in a closed area (no dogs) and the dog kills a protected species under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, this may result in additional civil penalties (on top of the Park Class B misdemeanor) up to $11,000 or criminal penalties up to $100,000 plus one year imprisonment.
The National Park Service would like visitors to report violations like this to the closest park ranger or the visitor center, so the seashore can respond. There is information on the Park Service website about where pets are allowed.
Description released of dog and its owner after Guadalupe Fur seal pup killed in Point Reyes