The leopard seal that was killed on a beach near Dargaville at the weekend was shot with two different weapons.
A necropsy at Massey University has revealed that the seal had been shot in the head at close range with a shot gun and shot in the body with a rifle.
More than one person was likely to have been involved in the killing.
Dr Ingrid Visser, co-founder of LeopardSeals.org, who took the seal to Palmerston North for a necropsy described the results as chilling.
“The shotgun blast literally blew the seal’s skull apart. The necropsy shows it was shot at point blank range near one of its eyes. There were bone fragments all through its head.
“The seal was given a CT scan so the damage to its head could be assessed but the scan pictures were distorted because there was so much metal in the seal’s head.”
Visser said Massey pathologist Dr Stuart Hunter had determined that the seal had been shot first in the body and then afterwards in the head.
“One bullet punctured a lung and broke a rib. The seal would most likely have died in agony.”
Visser said the leopard seal, a sub adult female, was in good health at the time of death.
“This rules out any claims that this was some sort of mercy killing – it was a cold-blooded execution of a defenceless animal.”
The Sea Shepherd organisation has offered a $5000 reward for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the shooters.
A similar reward led to the arrest of two men in 2011 after they clubbed 23 seals to death near Kaikoura.
In 2005, former All Black Andrew Hore and three Otago farmers were convicted and fined $2500 each for killing a fur seal on the Otago coast.
It was the first successful prosecution under the Marine Mammals Protection Act of 1978.
Hore and the others were returning from a fishing expedition when they fired semi-automatic shotguns from a boat at a group of seals lying on a beach.
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 Department of Conservation and Northland Police are investigating the crime.
A DOC compliance officer has gathered statements from five or six people who were on the beach or in the vicinity around the time of the shooting.
Visser said there had been a lot of talk on social media amongst the small Northland community and she was confident the perpetrators would be caught and dealt with.
“There is clear evidence that this was a criminal act.
“The Dargaville community have reached out to me and made it very clear they want this dealt with and I thank them for that,” said Visser.
Inspector Al Symons, said police were following a good line of inquiry but anybody with information on the incident should still contact the Dargaville Police.
The seal was found by local Shane Searle, who had filmed the seal before it was shot: “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.”
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, of LeopardSeals.org and a marine biologist with NIWA, said the mammals are found around the coast of New Zealand and mainly live on the ice in Antarctica during winter.
“They are typically solitary animals and are nearly always by themselves, although they come together in Antarctica for mating.”
Leopard seal sightings can be reported to 0800 LEOPARD, via the website www.leopardseals.org and on their Facebook page.