Six baby seals have been found decapitated at a popular New Zealand bay, in what authorities described as a "brutal and violent" crime.
A tourist operator discovered the 11-month-old fur seal pups floating in tidal wash at Scenery Nook, near Christchurch on New Zealand's South Island.
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They had apparently been killed and had their heads removed elsewhere, before possibly being dumped by boat for visitors to find, according to the New Zealand government's Department of Conservation (DOC).
Police have been called in to find the perpetrator, and the DOC is appealing for any recent sightings of boats in the area.
"Due to the disturbing, brutal and violent nature of this crime against defenseless seal pups, it has been reported to the police," Andy Thompson, DOC Mahaanui Operations Manager, said in a statement.
Three of the seals have been sent for an autopsy at a nearby university, and the DOC has ruled out the possibility of a shark attack.
"We believe it's incredibly unlikely sharks would have bitten the heads off six seals but left the bodies untouched," Thompson said.
"Regrettably, antagonism towards seals is often due to the misplaced belief that seals are eating large amounts of fish species valued for human consumption.
"That isn't the case," he added. "I can't believe people are willing to run the risk of a life-long criminal conviction over a couple of fish."
Fur seals are a protected species in New Zealand and it is a crime to harass or disturb them.