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New Zealand

‘Disturbing, brutal’: six baby seals are found decapitated in New Zealand bay, prompting police investigation

  • A conservation official says fishermen sometimes blame seals for low catches
  • Autopsies are under way, but it is believed the seals were killed by humans, not sharks
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 December, 2018, 1:39am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 December, 2018, 2:58am

Six baby fur seals were found decapitated Monday in a bay in New Zealand. Local authorities are calling it a “disturbing, brutal and violent” crime.

The 11-month-old pups were discovered by a tourist operator in a bay near the city of Christchurch on New Zealand’s South Island. Officials believe the seals were killed at another location before being dumped in the bay from a boat, New Zealand’s Department of Conservation said in a statement.

The department said there was no sign of the seals’ heads. Their bodies were found floating in the tidal wash.

“Due to the disturbing, brutal and violent nature of this crime against defenceless seal pups, it has been reported to the police,” Andy Thompson, operations manager for the Department of Conservation’s Maharani office.

Fur seals are protected under New Zealand’s Marine Mammals Protection Act, making it illegal to harass or disturb them.

Three of the bodies were sent to a local university for an autopsy, but officials believe humans were responsible for the decapitation. Thompson said in the statement that it’s “incredibly unlikely” that sharks would have bitten off the seals’ heads while leaving their bodies intact.

The statement notes that there are “several known cases” of people killing seals due to frustration over low fish numbers.

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“Regrettably, antagonism towards seals is often due to the misplaced belief that seals are eating large amounts of fish species valued for human consumption,” Thompson said.

“That isn’t the case. Research shows 90 per cent of Banks Peninsula fur seal diet is made up of lantern fish which are not sought after in fishing.”

Officials are asking people to report any suspicious boats or activity they noticed in the bay during the weekend.

“I can’t believe people are willing to run the risk of a lifelong criminal conviction over a couple of fish,” Thompson said in the statement. “People need to understand these reserves are protected and they will be charged if they are caught fishing here.”