WARNING: Graphic content below
A critically threatened sea lion pup was found shot dead on the Otago Peninsula on Saturday.
Staff from the Department of Conservation (DOC) found the remains of the 11 month-old female sea lion named Rua on a beach near Dunedin.
Rua was last seen on Allans Beach in September and made the headlines last summer when her birth was overseen by the local community.
DOC Coastal Otago operations manager Annie Wallace says the female was only one of 11 born last summer.
"The brutal senseless shooting of a defenceless threatened native animal is a tragedy. Rua was one of only 11 sea lion pups born on the peninsula last summer," she says.
"The impact of her death on the recovery of the New Zealand sea lion is not to be underestimated."
Rua found dead on a beach near Dunedin (supplied)
NZ Sea Lion Trust trustee Amelia Saxby says it is a shame for a threatened animal to be killed like this.
"To learn that such an abominable act can be carried out by a misguided person or group on one of our most iconic endangered species, in the wildlife capital of New Zealand, fills us with horror and shame," she says.
"These feelings will be shared by the many locals who appreciate and help care for this taoka species. We hope those who carried out this reprehensible act are found and face the harshest penalty."
Penalties for being guilty of causing death to an animals can include prison time and/or a fine of more than $250,000.
Rua was shot dead over the weekend (Supplied)
Police have been notified of the incident and DOC encourages members of the public to come forward if they have further information regarding the murder of Rua.
It is not the first time animals on Otago Peninsula have been at risk.
In October the Royal Albatross colony, also on the Otago Peninsula, put out a public warning not to fly drones in the area as it risked the safety of birds that were nesting.