A protected leopard seal has been shot dead on a beach in Northland.
The Department of Conservation (DOC) said it was shot in the face, likely with a rifle, near Glinks Gully Beach, just outside of Dargaville.
A member of the public who spotted the seal sunbathing found it dead when he returned the next day to check on it.
The seal had been lifted off the beach today for a post-mortem.
Stephen Soole from DOC said the seal's death had been "very upsetting" for everyone involved.
"These animals are not particularly common, particularly on our beach. To see one that had been killed was very distressing for members of the public and for the staff."
Seals are protected under the Wildlife Act and harming them can result in two years in prison or a quarter of a million dollar fine.
DOC and police were both investigating.
Mr Soole said any information from the public that could help the investigation would be appreciated.
"There was no need for any of this. A perfectly innocent animal just going about its business...it was a totally senseless act."