When Baylys Beach local Con Fowler took his normal beach cleaning walk on Wednesday he thought he had come across a dog fight involving two large dogs.
But instead, the dogs were attacking a fur seal, 'rag dolling' the marine mammal until it died - all while the dogs' owners allegedly stood back and did not stop the attack.
The Department of Conservation is now investigating the dog attack, with the owners facing hefty fines if caught - fur seals are a protected species and there are strict rules about interaction with them.
Winter is fur seal silly season, when the mammals come ashore and are a regular sight across Northland, which often means humans come across fur seals.
Fowler said he had since approached Kaipara District Council to see if they could put signs up at Baylys Beach warning people about the seals, and while the council was receptive, he felt he'd better put a sign up himself, so he put up a temporary warning yesterday.
Fowler - who walks the beach most days picking up rubbish - said he was pretty upset and angry at the dog attack, and the blatant disregard for the seal by the dogs' owners on Wednesday.
''As I was heading back to the entrance (of Baylys Beach) I saw a couple with these two big dogs that were not on their leash. I first thought the dogs were fighting as they were really making a lot of noise and commotion. But then I saw they were rag-dolling a seal,'' he said.
''I bellowed at the couple to get their dogs on leashes and get off the beach, but they just went to wander off down the beach, not even putting their dogs back on leashes until I shouted at them (again).
''I threatened them with the cops, and they scarpered, but didn't even go and check on the seal. It takes a lot to make me angry, but I am seething.
''It was so sad. The seal just looked up at me with those big, baby seal eyes, and I couldn't do anything ...''
Fowler said it was obvious that the seal was badly injured - he suspected a broken back or hip - and it tried to make its way back to the water.
''I got another couple to stay with it while I went up the beach (to call DoC) and when I got back it had sadly died. It's just such a shame and people need to know that this is the time of year these seals could be about so be careful."
DoC Northland spokeswoman Abigail Monteith said DoC was informed of this incident late Wednesday and responded in person.
''Rangers took samples of the bite areas on the seal and then buried it. We are investigating the incident and remind dog owners that we see more seals on beaches at this time of year. Dog owners whose dogs attack seals are committing an offence, as the Dog Control Act requires them to keep their dogs under control at all times,'' Monteith said.
''Seals are protected under the Wildlife Act 1953 and owners of dogs that attack seals could face some hefty penalties. Dog owners need to be aware that they could come across wildlife on beaches and know what to do if it happens, the key way to do this is to stay at least 20 metres away from the seal and keep your dog on a leash as you move past.''
■ Seal safety: You should:
Stay at least 20m away
Don't disturb seals by making loud noises or throwing things
Keep dogs and children away
Don't feed the seals
Never attempt to touch a seal.
■ What's normal? The following are all natural behaviours and you don't need to intervene. You may see seals:
Looking distressed and scrawny
Sneezing, coughing and with weepy eyes
Drifting in the waves
Flapping flippers as if stranded
Pups spending time away from their mothers
■ When we need to intervene: There are exceptions to the above and DoC will intervene if a seal is:
In notably poor condition
In immediate danger
Tangled in debris
Causing disruption, eg in the middle of a road
■ What to do if you're concerned? Ask:
Is the seal in danger, injured or being harassed by people or dogs? If so, call the emergency hotline 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468). Never attempt to move or handle a seal yourself. They are aggressive when stressed and it's important not to separate a mother and her pup.