‘Disturbing trend’ of NZ wildlife decapitation

‘Disturbing trend’ of NZ wildlife decapitation

Warning: This story contains graphic descriptions of animal decapitation incidents that have been reported to authorities, and which may upset some readers.


Earlier this year, a group on Auckland’s Muriwai came across what appeared to be a recently deceased great white shark.

Instead of leaving it, and calling the wildlife authorities, they decided to first tie the shark to the back of a car in order to tow it around the beach – with one of the people riding the back of a carcass, like a banana boat.

They then decided to cut off its head with a knife.

But they did not stop there.

Next they decided – roaring with laughter whilst also screaming with a twisted horror and delight – to put the decapitated shark’s head on one of their group members’ own, wearing it like a mask.

Another member of the group filmed the event, sharing it among friends and then on social media. It quickly ended up in the inbox of one of the Department of Conservation’s (DOC) investigators, Dylan Swain.

“It’s somewhere between horrified and disgusted,” he said.

Strong warning: The video below contains graphic images.

“There are some disturbed people out there who think they can treat our protected wildlife in this way, it’s not normal at all.”

However, it was the kind of behaviour that DOC told 1News was trending upwards, with at least a dozen reported incidents of animal decapitation in the past year or so, and a likelihood there were probably more that hadn’t been reported.

One example was a fur seal found dead on a beach near Wellington in late 2022.

Authorities first photographed the seal, but later returned to its body two days later to find someone had removed the animal’s head.

A deceased dolphin, found in late 2021, had the same fate. Authorities also found a mass decapitation event where birds were found on a beach with their heads cut off.

The most recent was in August this year in Whanganui – another fur seal.


“Inevitably we find what appears to be knife or blade wounds, there was one instance of a seal with its head cut off where they described it as having its head removed with scalpel precision,” Swain said.

There are multiple pieces of legislation that protect wildlife – both living and deceased – including the Wildlife Act and the Marine Mammals Protection Act for animals such as dolphins, whales and seals, according to DOC.

Under both laws, the punishments can range from fines to imprisonment.

What was unknown was what drove people to cut off the heads of protected wildlife, with Swain suspecting it could range from trophy hunting, getting likes on social media, or something more “sinister”.

The list of decapitation incidents also came as a shock to DOC’s science adviser Laura Boren — who specialised in fur seals.

“Certainly, when I saw the list, I thought: ‘Woah, this is crazy’,” she said.

“A good portion of these seem to be done after death, but I don’t know if that’s the case for all of them.”

She explained that, in many of these cases, it had to be humans involved – and not just because of the “scalpel” precision of some of the decapitations.

“When you see fresh animals without their heads, with very precise wounds that are definitely not natural – that is going to be done by somebody,” she said.

In nature, animal predators would often target other parts of the body, Boren said.

“Sharks, for example, will go for a form of propulsion [on the seal], they’ll go for their front flippers or their back flippers, or if they are coming from below, they might go for the stomach.

“They’re not going to go for the head.”


Swain said people should as a rule of thumb leave wildlife alone – but if anyone comes across a decapitated animal, they should report it to the authorities on 0800 DOC HOT.

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Written by Politixia


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