New Zealand shocked at decapitated seals, penguin, shark, birds: ‘grotesque and barbaric’

A spate of incidents involving the decapitation of protected New Zealand native animals has “shocked and horrified” the country, its Department of Conservation said on Monday.

In one incident at Auckland’s Muriwai beach, a group of people filmed themselves riding a dead great white shark being towed behind a vehicle, before the animal’s severed head was worn by one of the individuals involved.

The government agency said two people had been issued with infringement notices after footage of the incident appeared on social media.

Other incidents included the beheading of two fur seals, a decapitated penguin and several migrant shorebirds with their heads removed and bodies abandoned on the beach.

It’s illegal to remove a protected species’ head to have it as some sort of trophy

Dylan Swain, New Zealand Department of Conservation

Department of Conservation investigations team leader Dylan Swain said the incidents were “grotesque and barbaric” and breached several of New Zealand’s laws.

Advice from Department of Conservation science staff was that the decapitations were the result of human actions and not predation by another species.

“In a couple of incidents, the heads of these animals have been removed with some sort of implement. There are no teeth or bite marks or signs the animals have been attacked by another species.”

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The Department of Conservation said some of the animals may have been discovered dead on the beach but there was still no acceptable justification for removing the animals’ heads.


“It’s not acceptable for people to tamper with deceased animals, and it’s illegal to remove a protected species’ head to have it as some sort of trophy,” Swain said.

In recent weeks the Department of Conservation has revealed other incidents of harm to seals and sea lions. In late August a dog was seen with a young seal in its mouth on a Wellington beach, while a well-known adult female sea lion was shot dead near Dunedin.