Dargaville Police say they have identified four young men they think were responsible for shooting a leopard seal on a local beach two weeks ago.
The four, two aged 16 and two aged 15, have been referred to youth aid in relation to the incident.
A necropsy carried out at Massey University in Palmerston North last week revealed the seal had been shot in the body with a .22 rifle and in the face with shot gun.
A scan of the seal’s head showed it had been blasted at point blank range.
The seal was a healthy sub adult female.
Acting Sergeant Willie Paniora said the matter had been very upsetting for the Dargaville community and “we hope that this update will provide the public with some degree of reassurance”.
“Police carried out significant enquiries in relation to this matter and would like to take the opportunity to thank our community for the assistance they provided. We hope this serves as a notice that we will not tolerate this type of cruel and reckless behaviour.”
The leopard seal had been filmed alive and well on a beach near Te Kopuru by a local resident the day before it was shot dead.
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.
Dr Ingrid Visser from LeopardSeals.org said she was shocked by the news that the shooting could have been carried by people of such a young age.
“I don’t think it’s okay for 16-year-olds to be carrying guns unsupervised. In fact, I don’t think 16-year-olds should be allowed to have gun licences. It is too young.
“Now days we don’t let 16-year-olds drive without being supervised and you can’t go to the pub and drink until you are 18. But we let these kids have guns, I actually find it disgusting.”
“If these four young men did carry out the shooting they may not be punishable in the way adults would be but I hope the community holds them accountable and I feel sure they will.”
Leopard seals frequent beaches around the New Zealand coastline but they are typically solitary animals coming together to mate in Antarctic waters.
Leopard Seal sightings can be reported to 0800 LEOPARD, via the website www.leopardseals.org and on their Facebook page.