SEATTLE — Two more sea lions have been shot to death, both after washing ashore around West Seattle this week.

One was found Tuesday and the other was found Wednesday. Both were severely decomposed.

This brings the total of sea lions found dead near Puget Sound to 18, with 12 of those animals shot. The deaths began in late September and have been concentrated in King County and Kitsap County.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is investigating the deaths.

Pinnipeds like seals and sea lions have come under mounting pressure for lethal removal as they compete for salmon with Southern Resident killer whales. Sen. Maria Cantwell has sponsored a bill that recently passed through a Senate vote that would make it easier to kill sea lions in the Columbia River.

The Governor’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force did not propose a cull of pinnipeds in Puget Sound in its final list of recommendations, though it supports action in the Columbia River.

Sea lions are protected by the Marine Mammal Act. The fine for killing a sea lion can be up to a year in prison and a $25,000 fine. The illegal killings often have no witnesses, so it's rare anyone is prosecuted for the crime.

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