Warning: Contains images some may find upsetting
A leopard seal famed for making her home in Auckland’s city harbour has reportedly been shot in the face.
Owha, who lives in the Waitematā, was seen bleeding from her face at the weekend.
Photos of her injuries showed a clear puncture wound on the left side of her face.
Dr Ingrid Visser, co-founder of LeopardSeals.org, said the wound was confirmed by three veterinarians as likely the result of a gunshot.
“I was horrified to hear that this incredible animal was attacked in this way,” Visser said.
“I’ve spent hours with Owha and there is absolutely no excuse for someone to do this.”
Despite concerns about Owha’s welfare they had decided not to intervene because of the risks involved for the seal during capture and sedation. They would continue to monitor her for any chance in her behaviour or body condition.
Niwa marine mammal biologist Dr Krista Hupman said Owha was being monitored but was doing okay.
She was resting and swimming as usual, but researchers would watch her closely for any change in condition.
Hupman said anyone who saw the seal should call 0800 LEOPARD (0800 536 7273).
She also urged anyone who had seen Owha in the past week to make contact so a timeline of her movements could be created.
They were working closely with the Department of Conservation and leading wildlife veterinarians to assess the next steps.
“We ask everyone to give her the space that she needs while she deals with this injury.”
Owha returned to Auckland during Labour Weekend last year – keeping cautious crowds entertained as she spent Labour Day basking in the sun.
The 3m-long seal is a familiar sight in Auckland.
She was resident in Auckland waters from September 2015 to March 2017, and spent much of 2017 moving between Whangārei and Tutukaka.
Owha had been residing in New Zealand waters since at least 2012, when she was photographed off the coast of Dunedin.
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 Ōrakei.
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.
A young leopard seal was killed after it was shot in the face in 2018 on a Northland beach.
Four teenage males, two aged 16 and two aged 15, were referred to Youth Aid over the incident.