In Depth

Six decapitated baby seals found in New Zealand

‘Disturbing, brutal and violent’ crime reported to the police by New Zealand Department of Conservation

The bodies of six decapitated baby seals have been found in New Zealand.

New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC) said the 11-month-old seals were found by a tourism operator floating in the tidal wash at Scenery Nook, a remote bay in the country’s Banks Peninsula near the town of Christchurch.

When the DOC visited the bay there was no sign of the seals' heads.

“Due to the disturbing, brutal and violent nature of this crime against defenceless seal pups, it has been reported to the police,” said DOC Mahaanui Operations Manager Andy Thompson in a statement.

Thompson added that it appeared the seals had been killed elsewhere then dumped in the beauty spot from a boat.

“We believe it's incredibly unlikely sharks would have bitten the heads off six seals but left the bodies untouched,” he said.

Thompson added the killers may have mistakenly believed the seals were competing with local anglers for fish.

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

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

Black Cat Cruises chief executive Paul Milligan told New Zealand news website Stuff that a member of staff spotted the seals while on a harbour cruise yesterday and alerted the DOC.

“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.

Three of the seals “have been buried by DOC rangers and the other three bodies will be taken to Massey University for examination”, says the BBC. The DOC has appealed for any witnesses to come forward.

Fur seals are the most common seals in New Zealand, with a population of more than 200,000, and are protected under the country's 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”, says Stuff.

Anyone charged with killing a marine mammal “faces a maximum penalty of two years in jail or a maximum fine of $250,000 (£135,000)”, the website adds.

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