Jordan Gerbich | Credit: Courtesy U.S. Justice Dept.

Former Santa Maria resident Jordan Gerbich, 30, admitted to fatally shooting a northern elephant seal — a protected species under the Marine Mammal Protection Act — at a popular haul-out near San Simeon in September 2019. In exchange, federal prosecutors agreed to recommend Gerbich’s prison sentence be cut in half, from one year in federal prison to six months.

Via videoconference, Gerbich admitted that he and an accomplice crept onto the grounds of the popular tourist site with a flashlight and a 45-caliber handgun, which he used to shoot a female elephant seal one time in the head. When the body was discovered by a visitor the next day, the elephant seal’s tail had been hacked off and its chest cavity cut open. Gerbich was not charged with and did not admit to mutilating the elephant seal.

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Gerbich, who has since moved to Utah, has a troubled past. In 2004, his 10-month-old child died while in the care of what he claimed was a drunken caretaker. He unsuccessfully sought to persuade county prosecutors to file criminal charges. When that failed, he launched an online petition drive to achieve the same results. In 2017, he was arrested for detonating an explosive device in a dumpster located in the back of a Santa Maria business. No one was injured and no damage inflicted, but criminal investigators managed to lift fingerprints from the scene that matched Gerbich’s.

It’s unknown what charges — if any — were filed against Gerbich’s accomplice in the elephant seal killing or whether anyone ever claimed the $20,000 reward offered for information leading to the perpetrator’s arrest.

Gerbich’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for April 12, 2021.

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