The Department of Conservation (DoC) is horrified and devastated after one of the rarest sea lion species in the world was shot dead near Dunedin last week.
On August 30, a member of the public found a dead two-year-old sea lion on the harbour side of Aramoana Beach. Now necropsy results have revealed it was shot dead.
DoC said the female sea lion was born in Aramoana on New Year's Day in 2021 and she was well known to the community.
"This event is particularly devastating for the community and the people who closely monitor the local population and have followed this sea lion’s life journey closely," DoC operation manager for coastal Otago Gabe Davies said.
He described the death as horrific and upsetting because New Zealand sea lions are among the rarest sea lion species in the world.
"It’s a privilege to share our coastlines with them," Davies said.
"They're classified as ‘Nationally Vulnerable’ and protected - and a taonga species for Ngāi Tahu. They should be able to live in their natural habitat without the threat of human aggression and violence."
Davies said the death is even more disappointing because the two-year-old sea lion had not yet had the opportunity to breed and help grow the vulnerable Otago population.
"There are currently only 30 breeding-age females on the Otago Peninsula. Last year, we had 21 pups born; of these only five females survived. Females who survive to breeding age, which is around four years old, are very precious, and this sea lion was well on her way there," he said.
DoC along with many other groups and agencies are now reviewing the Sea Lion Threat Management Plan (TMP).
"A clear objective of the TMP is to prevent any intentional acts of harm to sea lions," Gabe said.
New Zealand Sea Lion Trust co-chair Shaun McConkey described the heart-breaking situation as "completely unnecessary".
"Coastal communities in Otago have really begun to understand and embrace the natural return of sea lions to our shores in recent years. Awareness and appreciation have been growing, so it's hugely disappointing that there are still individuals out there undermining that work," McConkey said.
Te Rūnanga ō Ōtākou manager Nadia Wesley-Smith said the thought of someone intentionally killing the sea lion is "absolutely devastating".
"Sea lions have always been here in the harbour beaches, though in small numbers in recent times. Individual losses such as this represent the absence of future generations," Wesley-Smith said.
To harass, harm, injure or kill a New Zealand sea lion is an offence under the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978. DoC said an offender could face imprisonment for up to two years, a fine not exceeding $250,000, or both.
DoC has urged anyone who has information on the killing to contact them on 0800 362 468.