DOC condemns clubbing deaths of 23 seals on Kaikoura coast
The Department of Conservation is condemning the brutal clubbing to death of 23 seals, including eight newborn pups, on the Kaikoura coast.
The department is calling for public help to identify the person or persons responsible for the violent attack. New Zealand fur seals are protected by law and it is an offence to kill or harm them.
The bashed seals were found at the Ohau Point seal colony, about 22 km north of Kaikoura township. Some of the pups killed were just a few days old. The dead seals also included 13 females and two bulls. Other live seals have injuries that suggest they were also struck.
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Ohau Point is a popular tourist spot for viewing fur seals, visited by thousands of people each year along with the nearby Ohau Stream waterfall pool where visitors enjoy watching frolicking seal pups.
DOC South Marlborough Area Manager Dave Hayes said the condition of the dead seals suggested whoever was behind the seal attacks had carried it out over separate days.
“Some of the dead seals appear to have been killed a week ago; others look to have been killed around a week or so beforehand.
“This is a callous and cowardly attack on seals, especially newborn pups, unable to defend themselves against someone striking them with a bat or similar club-like object. The smashed skulls of several dead seals we examined suggest they may have died in one forceful blow to the head indicating it was a person or persons of some strength who carried out the attacks.
“It is deeply disappointing to see such a lack of respect and appreciation for these captivating marine mammals that are an important part of Kaikoura’s internationally-renowned marine wildlife tourism. Last year Kaikoura received around 900,000 visitors and those in the local tourism industry tell us the seals are a significant draw card.
“The Ohau Stream waterfall pool has particularly become a major attraction being visited by around 5000 people a month in the eight months or so of the year seal pups from the Ohau Point colony gather there. People have great pleasure in seeing the young pups playfully cavorting at the pool. The eight young pups killed in this attack might have been among them in four to five months’ time had they not been killed.
“Thankfully most people appreciate what a wonderful opportunity it is to see to be able to see fur seals so readily along our coasts.
“Regrettably, antagonism towards seals is often due to the misplaced belief that seals are eating large amounts of fish species valued for human consumption. That isn’t the case. Research on Kaikoura seals indicates the seals primarily eat lantern fish which are not sought after in fishing.”
DOC has reported the seal attack to police. Anyone with information about the seal attack and the person or persons responsible is asked to contact DOC’s South Marlborough Area Office in Renwick, phone (03) 572 9100 or police.
• Under the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978 there are penalties of up to six months’ imprisonment or a fine of up to $250,000 for killing or harming fur seals or other marine mammal plus a further fine of up to $10,000 for every marine mammal the offence was committed against.
• Last month a 20-year-old Southland man, with a history of violence and a previous conviction for animal cruelty, was jailed for four months for his role in an attack on a leopard seal in October last year in which fist-sized stones were thrown at the seal and it was dragged around a beach by its tail. Two other men were fined $5000 and $7000 respectively for their part in the attack.
• In 2005, three men were each fined $2500 in relation to shooting at seals, killing one, on the Otago coast.
• Centuries ago about two million fur seals lived around the New Zealand coast but in the early 1800s due to hunting of seals they were nearly wiped out in Kaikoura and elsewhere. Seals were given full protection by the New Zealand government in 1849.
• Increasingly in recent years, from around April to November, seal pups from the Ohau Point colony, have been hanging out at the Ohau Stream waterfall pool, while their mothers head out to sea. Between 100 to 200 pups have been seen up the stream at the pool.