Heads up, sea lion snatchers: the cute pups don't make the greatest pets. You are also likely facing a nasty bite from the scared animal, which could require hospital attention, and a jail sentence for stealing a federally protected species.

That's the word from animal rescue experts as law enforcers search for the thieves who snatched a seal or sea lion pup off a Los Angeles beach this weekend.

The abduction, which was witnessed by at least one person, took place on Sunday about 3:20 a.m. at Dockweiler State Beach. The witness told police there were two women and two men harassing and teasing the pup by throwing bricks and trash at the animal before wrapping it up in a blanket, dumping it in a car trunk and taking off.

Police are trying to determine if the animal is a small seal or sea lion pup at this point. Another pup later found on the beach has been determined to be a sea lion, according to Marine Animal Rescue President Peter Wallerstein, who is making a plea to the thieves to return the animal safely for both the pup's sake and the thieves' sake.

"The animal needs fluids, needs special treatments," he said, estimating the stolen pup is likely about 10 months old. "You can't just feed it dog food. It's not going to work."

A sea lion or seal pup cannot be taken in as a pet, he advised, noting that despite how cute and cuddly a 25-pound pup may appear, they can be dangerous.

"These are wild animals," he said.

Sea lions and seals are protected species, so the theft has prompted an investigation by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), as well as the police since it appears to be an animal cruelty case.

According to the witness, the thieves took off in a black two-door Honda Civic with California license plates that include the numerals 5 and 6.

Such animal thefts are on the rise this year, said Wallerstein, given the increasing number of seal and sea lion pups washing up sick on Southern California beaches.

As Tech Times reported in February, hundreds of frail and starving sea lion pups have been washing ashore on California beaches, with rescuers saving 250 of the juvenile sea lions between January and February. The rescued pups should have been with their moms in Mexico or the Channel Islands.

Officials from the NOAA and animal rescue groups are not sure if the record-setting number of animals arriving sick on the beaches is tied to changing ocean conditions or an unidentified disease.

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