A number of protected Australian fur seals have been killed in a shooting spree at sites on Tasmania’s east coast, wildlife authorities said yesterday.
An officer for the Department of Primary Industries and Water, Wildlife and Marine Conservation, Andrew Irvine, said three of the dead seals had been shot, while six others had head wounds that were highly suspicious and investigations were continuing into five other reports at separate locations.
Mr Irvine said the confirmed shootings of the seals occurred at Ile des Phoques and Taillefer Rocks on the east coast earlier this month.
He said several eco-tour operators in the area reported a number of dead seals on both islands.
“When we visited the sites we found nine dead seals and the body positions indicated an unnatural cause of death,” Mr Irvine said.
“There was also a considerable amount of blood around each of the dead animals indicating their death was the result of a sudden major injury.”
He said people would be outraged by the shootings, particularly as they occurred on a remote island that was a nature reserve and another that was part of a national park.
“These are areas that have been set aside for the conservation of wildlife and it appears that a person has gone to these islands specifically to shoot some of the wildlife there,” Mr Irvine said.
Mr Irvine said fishermen frustrated by the seals stealing their bait or ruining their catch could be behind the shootings but pointed out that there was no proof.
“It could just as easily come down to plain vandalism,” he said.
Mr Irvine said it was the third time seals had been shot this year.
He said Iles des Phoques had been a seal breeding site at one time but seal harvesting had devastated the population and it was no longer used for breeding.
“As well as the direct effects the illegal shooting of them has, there is also the flow-on effects such as deaths of other animals, including seal pups and other seals, caused by associated stampedes at colonies,” Mr Irvine said.
He said a fledgling eco-tour industry could also be adversely impacted by the shootings.
The Australian fur seal is the world’s fourth-rarest seal species. It was hunted to the brink of extinction last century and population recovery has been slow. Seals are now wholly protected in Australia.