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Source: Department of Conservation

Date:  04 August 2022

The Department of Conservation (DOC) was first alerted to the dead leopard seal on the morning of 23 July. Initial investigations revealed the animal appeared to have been shot, most likely with a small calibre rifle.

Evidence on site suggests a vehicle had been circling around the animal which may have caused it further distress.

Leopard seals are protected under the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978 and offences against them carry significant penalties.

DOC is appealing for anyone with information about this incident to call the DOC hotline 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468) and ask for the Invercargill team.

“After collecting information and communicating with the local Waihopai rūnaka, it has been decided to allow the animal to decompose naturally,” says DOC Senior Biodiversity Ranger Rosalind Cole.

“Leopard seals are considered a taonga species to Ngāi Tahu. Local iwi have expressed how sad and tragic it is that a member of the public would carry out such an act on a defenceless marine mammal. We completely agree.”

Leopard seals are easily identified by their snake-like appearance, with long slim bodies, disproportionately large heads, massive jaws and impressive teeth. They usually dwell in the Antarctic but visit New Zealand’s shores sometimes, usually in autumn and winter.

During initial investigations the juvenile leopard seal looked in otherwise good health, so it is unknown why it may have come ashore.

Background information

More information about leopard seals.

Marine Mammal Protections Act 1978

It is an offence to take a marine mammal – extract pasted from the Act below. The word ‘Take’ in the context of the Marine Mammals Protections Act 1978 means; to take, catch, kill, injure, attract… (Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978 Section 2 (1)).

Section 9

Offence to take marine mammal without permit

(1)  Every person commits an offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years or to a fine not exceeding $250,000 who takes, has in possession, exports, imports, has on board any vessel, vehicle, aircraft, or hovercraft, or has control of any marine mammal, otherwise than under this Act or a permit.

Report sick, injured or dead wildlife

Call the DOC conservation emergency hotline 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468) if you see a seal that is:

  • severely injured
  • entangled in marine debris
  • being harassed by people or dogs.


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