The Department of Conservation is urging the public to come forward with information after a male sea lion was discovered with gunshot wounds on a beach in the Catlins.
The sea lion came ashore at Jacks Bay, near Owaka, over Easter, and clambered up the beach to lie in the dunes, but later died.
"We are fortunate that members of the Jacks Bay community reported the animal to DOC and while we were not able to save it, a vet was available and supervised a necropsy, which showed that the sea lion had been shot causing a haemorrhage in its lungs," DOC's acting operations manager for Murihiku, Chris Bowen, said.
"This sea lion appeared to be in a good condition. He died from serious blood loss and it would have been a slow, painful death."
"The shooting of an endangered animal is hard to comprehend. There are only about 10,000 New Zealand sea lions left so losing one in this way is particularly tragic," he said.
Dean Whaanga, from Awarua Runanga, said it was extremely sad to see this protected animal treated in such a way.
"They have the right to exist in their environment and must be respected as such."
Doc is leading an investigation into the incident and police have been alerted. Staff thanked the Jacks Bay community with their support with this incident.
It is illegal to injure or kill sea lions and anyone apprehended faces serious penalties, including up to two years' imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000 under the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978 and five years' prison and a fine of up to $100,000 under the Animal Welfare Act 1999.
Doc is asking the public to help find who is responsible. Anyone with information about should contact the Murihiku/Invercargill DOC office on 03 2112400, or the DOC hotline 0800 362 468.