Intern Andrea Franklin shows creatures in an outdoor tank to visitors to… (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles…)
The SEA Lab is a small aquarium in Redondo Beach that about 20,000 schoolchildren visit each year to look at the fish. Sometimes they even get the chance to touch them.
But over the weekend, someone went a lot further than that by stealing two 30-pound California halibut and more than 20 spiny lobsters from the outdoor tanks. A pool of blood was found next to the 5,000-gallon halibut tank, presumably from injuries the fish suffered.
Brent Scheiwe, the SEA Lab's program director, said there was no evidence of a break-in. A 12-foot-high concrete wall surrounds the aquarium, except for at one spot that is protected by a chain link fence, and there was no sign that anyone had forced his way in.
He suspects that the crooks pulled the halibut out of the tank with a net or by using bait, since a dead fish was found next to the tank.
Scheiwe said the theft does not appear to be the work of vandals who went onto the property as a prank, but the action of people who targeted the aquarium. "They saw what they wanted and came back and took it," he said.
Halibut sells for about $15 a pound in supermarkets. The stolen fish is worth at most $1,000, Scheiwe said. "These are much more valuable as an educational tool," he said. "This person, by removing the halibut, has removed that experience from thousands of people. It was just one person's selfish needs. I can't comprehend it."
The largest lobsters taken were about a foot long. Unlike their East Coast cousins, the local crustaceans do not have large pincers, making it easier for someone to snatch them quickly.
The nearby tanks with rays, bass and a moray eel were left untouched.
This is not the first time SEA Lab has experienced a theft.
Scheiwe said that about a decade ago someone climbed the fence and speared a halibut. The man was later caught.
The latest theft occurred between the time the aquarium closed Saturday at 6 p.m. and opened Sunday at 10 a.m.
The aquarium is known for its halibut-breeding program, and it was the first place the fish were bred in captivity, Scheiwe said.
To prevent someone coming back for seconds, the SEA Lab has installed a video surveillance system.