A marine biologist says we need to learn to live with wildlife better as the search continues for who shot Owha, Auckland's resident leopard seal.

The celebrity seal, who measures over 3m in length and weighs about 400kg, was spotted bleeding from her face at the weekend from a suspected bullet wound.

Marine conservation society Sea Shepherd this week put up a $5000 reward for any evidence leading to the conviction of the person or people responsible.

Sea Shepherd NZ managing director Michael Lawry said so far nobody had come forward with any information.


The organisation also offered a reward last year after a juvenile leopard seal was shot and killed on a Northland beach. The perpetrators - four teenagers - were eventually caught, but Lawry said this time could prove more difficult.

"Then it was in a small community, whereas here it is in a much more populated area. But we are confident we will find out, it might just take some time."

Owha is a relatively good condition following the shooting, but veterinarians are monitoring her health closely. Photo / Alex Grabham
Owha is a relatively good condition following the shooting, but veterinarians are monitoring her health closely. Photo / Alex Grabham

He was aware of some boaties in Auckland annoyed at Owha's behaviour, and they had been made aware of some "aggressive comments" about her on online forums.

Department of Conservation operations manager Kirsty Prior on Thursday said a marine ranger assessed Owha and while she appeared stable, there were still concerns she could deteriorate due to infection or internal damage

"We'll be keeping a close eye on her."

DoC had been receiving reports from the public regarding her injury but would not release any details while they were investigating.

"We continue to ask people with any information to call 0800 DOC HOT."

Dr Krista Hupman, Niwa Marine Mammal Biologist and co-founder of LeopardSeals.org, said while Owha was in relatively good shape, they were developing a plan in case she deteriorated.


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Sedating such a large marine mammal like Owha meant that if she became agitated she could dive into the water and drown.

"We also don't know her exact weight so getting the dose right will be a challenge. Sedating is an absolute worst-case scenario, matter of life or death."

Owha has delighted Aucklanders ever since arriving in the area in 2015. Photo / Michael Craig
Owha has delighted Aucklanders ever since arriving in the area in 2015. Photo / Michael Craig

Initially there had been fears Owha, who has been visiting the waters surrounding Auckland since 2015, could become more fearful and aggressive towards humans following the shooting, but so far that has not been the case.

"She is the same [in her behaviour] as she has always been, it is pretty remarkable."

Some boaties had raised concerns about Owha's behaviour over the years, which has included biting the hulls of inflatable dinghies.


The Department of Conservation this year approved a trial at Westhaven Marina to quell her troublemaking behaviour by using light, noise and as a last resort, water, to deter her.

Panuku Development Auckland Limited, which manages several marinas including Westhaven, holds the permit for this activity, only to be used for health and safety reasons.

There is also an application from Empire Capital Ltd to do the same at its Hobsonville, Bayswater and Pine Harbour marinas.

Hupman said a less disruptive approach needed to be developed.

"I do feel for boaties whose equipment has been damaged, but at the same time if it is not Owha there are a lot of other wild animals around, so we need to learn to live alongside them better."

She was hoping to work with DoC and veterinarians to work with Owha to keep her entertained, including placing "toys" in the area she could bite into.


Hupman said that somebody would want to hurt Owha is "baffling".

"Owha is like a celebrity, that anyone would do this to her baffles me. It seems some people don't like living alongside wildlife, but for me that is not acceptable - and it's illegal - and we need to change attitudes.

"She came up from Antarctica, like all leopard seals we see in New Zealand, and the fact she is here, in such a big city, and we can get to a safe distance and experience her presence is something that we should be celebrating and encouraging."

The suspected bullet wound on Owha's face. Photo / Alex Grabham
The suspected bullet wound on Owha's face. Photo / Alex Grabham

Leopard seal numbers tended to come north from Antarctica to New Zealand waters during autumn and winter, but their numbers had been increasing here since 2015, Hupman said.

Just in past four months 14 different leopard seals had been recorded in Otago.

"We are not exactly sure why it is happening, it could be some change in the Antarctic ecosystem or the availability of food. But the reality is we are seeing more of them, and so we need to learn to live with them better."


Owha had been in New Zealand waters since at least 2012, when she was photographed off the coast of Dunedin.

She was first sited in Auckland waters in September 2015 and remained until March 2017. She spent much of 2017 moving between Whangārei and Tutukaka, and has been seen in the Northland and Auckland area many times since.

Owha is short for her name "He owha nā ōku tūpuna", which translates to "treasured gift from our ancestors", received from Auckland hapū Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei.

Leopard seals are a native species and protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act 1978. Anyone charged under the act with harassing, disturbing, injuring or killing a seal faces a maximum penalty of two years' imprisonment or a fine to a maximum of $250,000.

Sightings of Owha or any other leopard seals should be reported to the LeopardSeals.org hotline on 0800 LEOPARD (0800 536 7273).