Six baby seals found decapitated on New Zealand beach
It has been called a "cruel and senseless" act against a protected species.
New Zealand's Department of Conservation has confirmed that six 11-month-old fur seals were found decapitated in the tidal wash at Scenery Nook, a remote bay in Banks Peninsula.
Chief Executive of local tour operator Black Cat Cruises, Paul Milligan, said that the discovery was made by staff while on an excursion with customers.
"Unfortunately there were members of the public on board... it's not something they wanted to see and certainly not something we would usually come across. It's pretty upsetting for everyone," he said.
Local news outlet Stuff NZ reported that DOC visited the bay there was no sign of the seals' heads, and that a police spokeswoman said police were aware of the incident and would assist in the investigations.
DOC operations manager Andy Thompson made the following statement:
"Due to the disturbing, brutal and violent nature of this crime against defenseless seal pups, it has been reported to the police. [...] While the [autopsy] will determine the exact cause of death, we believe it's incredibly unlikely sharks would have bitten the heads off six seals but left the bodies untouched."
Fur seals are the most common seals in New Zealand, with a population of more than 200,000, and are protected under the Marine Mammals Protection Act.
It is a criminal offence to harass, disturb or harm them, but there have been several cases of people injuring or killing seals after becoming frustrated over low fish numbers in the ocean.
Anyone charged with killing a marine mammal faces a maximum penalty of two years in jail or a maximum fine of $250,000 (€150,000).