The Department of Conservation is appealing for information to help track down the person responsible for decapitating a seal body.
In a statement, DoC said the dead leopard seal was decapitated over the weekend at Monkey Island in Southland.
DoC was first alerted to the dead leopard seal last week and, after communicating with local Oraka Aparima rūnaka, it was decided to allow the animal to naturally decompose.
However, DoC said the leopard seal's body was decapitated over the weekend, to the horror of both groups.
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DoC senior biodiversity ranger Ros Cole said the act was both incredibly disrespectful, and illegal under the Marine Mammals Protection Act.
"As it is an offence to take any part of a marine mammal that has not naturally separated."
Those who commit an offence under the act can face penalties including imprisonment for up to two years, and/or a maximum fine of $100,000/
The department said leopard seals have a distinctive large head, with ferocious teeth and, teamed with their slim bodies, from afar they can look like a large snake.
"They normally dwell in the Antarctic but visit New Zealand's shores sometimes in autumn-winter. It is not known why the seal may have come ashore in December," the statement said.
DoC is calling for anyone with information to call the hotline: 0800 DOC HOT and ask for the Invercargill team.