WARNING: Some may find the images in the story distressing.
About 30 protected red-billed gulls were killed as two cars and a quad bike hooned around the Royal Albatross Centre carpark for about three hours early this morning, Otago Peninsula Trust ecotourism manager Hoani Langsbury says.
The incident, which lasted from about 1am to 4.30am, was captured on CCTV and had been reported to the police, Langsbury said.
Distressed staff at the centre this morning arrived to find the dead birds, empty beer bottles, and extensive tyre marks throughout the parking lot, he said.
Security footage was reviewed and the mess was cleaned up before visitors arrived at 10am.
At this stage in the gulls' breeding season in the evenings up to 1000 chicks congregated in the carpark and it was only a matter of luck that more birds were not killed, Langsbury said.
The gull colony at Taiaroa Head had grown significantly over the past 10 years — increasing by 1000 pairs — and was the only red-billed gull colony in New Zealand that was not declining.
Whether the drivers were intentionally targeting the protected species or not, the entire headland was a seabird colony, he said.
Years of conservation work supported not only Dunedin's northern royal albatross and the red-billed gulls but more than 20 species of seabirds, he said.
Department of Conservation ranger Colin Facer called driving over and killing adult birds and chicks both "clueless" and "gutless".
Red-billed gulls were more threatened than the northern royal albatrosses that breed on the peninsula, he said.
Those responsible could be prosecuted under the Wildlife Act, he said.