• The man shot the basking elephant seal with a .45-caliber pistol
  • He pleaded guilty to "taking a marine mammal"
  • He is likely to face at least one year in prison for the misdemeanor

A man pleaded guilty of fatally shooting an elephant seal, a species protected under federal law, on a California beach last year, prosecutors said Monday.

Jordan Gerbich, 30, who now lives in Utah, had been residing in California’s Santa Maria County when he shot the seal, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said.

Gerbich admitted in his plea agreement that he shot the marine animal with a .45-caliber pistol as it was basking on the beach in an area adjacent to Piedras Blancas Marine Reserve and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary near San Simeon.

Gerbich could face up to one year in federal prison for the misdemeanor. His sentencing is scheduled for April 12, 2021.

Prosecutors demanded his sentence be reduced to six months, three of which he can serve in home confinement, according to NBC News.

It wasn’t mentioned in the court documents why Gerbich shot the animal.

Elephant seals derived their name from their large appearance. They are known to inhabit in huge numbers in the central North Pacific Ocean, throughout the area between Alaska and Mexico. The species typically visit the Channel Islands of California to breed and are found in colonies off southern California. These marine animals make frequent visits to California’s offshore islands. The species is protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

In April 2018, a Miami fisherman was cited by authorities for harvesting a lemon shark, a federally protected species. Jose Medina, 63, was stopped by deputies on a highway and the carcass of the shark was found inside a cooler at the bed of the truck. Medina told cops he found the shark on the shoreline and collected it. Cops immediately seized the shark. Medina was facing hundreds of dollars in penalty for the offense. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission protects the lemon sharks due to low reproduction rates and fears of over-harvesting.

Baby Elephant Seal
An Elephant Seal pup sits in a pool at the Marine Mammal Center on April 20, 2017 in Sausalito, California. Getty Images