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Video: Protected leopard seal shot at beach

*Watch the video in the player above. Warning: graphic content*

A protected leopard seal has been shot in the face and killed as it lay on a Dargaville beach in Northland.

Department of Conservation operations manager for the Kauri Coast Stephen Soole confirmed the shooting near Glinks Gully and believes the firearm used was a rifle.

"We are beginning the initial stages of our investigation which will involve the police. Today the seal will be uplifted off the beach with the intention of doing an autopsy.”  

The seals are protected under the Wildlife Act and the Marine Mammals Act and those harming them face up to two years' imprisonment and fines of up to $250,000.

The seal was found by local Shane Searle who took the video. “I just couldn’t believe someone would do this, especially when I saw it the day before and the leopard seal was majestic sunbathing and doing no harm”

When he went to check the next day, it had been shot in the face. 

Leopard seals mainly live in Antarctica but research shows they are regular visitors to our shores.

Dr Ingrid Visser, the co-founder of the research project LeopardSeals.org told Newsroom: "The depravity of some people is so low I can’t imagine how they can sleep at night.

"Why anyone would attack an animal in this way is beyond comprehension. I can only hope that they either come forward or someone in the community comes forward to report them."

*Video from the day before shows the seal alive and well. Watch in the player below*

She said that in the past, events like this had caused a public outcry. "Whoever did this should face the music.

"We should be celebrating when these animals visit our shores not attacking them. New Zealanders are compassionate people who care about our environment and this is far from that. I ask the public to help uncover who did this atrocious crime."

Adult leopard seals, which have large heads and jaws and can have a snake-like appearance, can grow more than three metres long and females weigh up to 500kg.

Dr Krista Hupman, cofounder of LeopardSeals.com and a marine biologist with NIWA, said: "It's alarming anybody would hurt an animal that's not doing anyone any harm. The leopard seal was not sick or injured and was in a very healthy condition as we saw from footage taken the day before."

The seals are 'vagrants' and can be in New Zealand waters all year round. "They are more common than people think in our waters and this time of year is when we have our greatest number of sightings. We ask everyone to stay at least 20m away from them."

Visser added: “They are protected by law, but common sense should also prevail – give them the space they need and don’t harass them.”

Leopard Seal sightings can be reported to 0800 LEOPARD, via the website www.leopardseals.org and on their Facebook page. 

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