A custody battle has ensued after a dead leopard seal was found at an Auckland marina.
The seal was discovered on September 19 at Westhaven marina, floating in the water next to one of the piers, with the top half of its body submerged below the water.
It took the Department of Conservation, iwi and marina staff most of the morning to get the seal out and onto a tarpaulin, ready to be loaded onto a truck.
Conflict came when deciding where to take the seal, with DOC wanting to take the presumed male seal to Massey University, while a member of Ngāti Paoa wanted it to go to Auckland Zoo.
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While it was initially taken to the zoo, the dead seal was then moved to Massey, where it is being kept in a freezer.
DOC Auckland Mainland Operations Manager Rebecca Rush said the freezers at Auckland Zoo are not large enough to store the seal, so it was only there while the zoo staff completed the necropsy.
“DOC has been working with Ngāti Whātua o Ōrākei on what will happen to the leopard seal now the necropsy has been completed, and one option is for the animal to be returned to Ngāti Whātua o Ōrākei for cultural purposes.”
Discussions are now being held over how Ngāti Whātua o Ōrākei would like to transport the seal to its final resting place, Rush said.
However, Karla Allies, Ngāti Paoa, said she is still trying to get to the bottom of what happened.
“I thought everyone would be keen to see how we could work together and learn from this,” she said.
“My point was this is a real opportunity for Māori and Pākehā to work together in true partnership.”
Allies said it would be great to blend the process of mātauranga Māori with traditional science, respecting cultural considerations – like starting the necropsy with karakia.
The harbour is where many hapū and iwi tied up their waka, so many have rights to this place, she said.
“This experience has been eye-opening and I don’t believe it is appropriate for DOC to be choosing which iwi makes decisions in which places,” Allies said.
“We should not have been shut out.”
Government settlement documents show both Ngāti Paoa and Ngāti Whātua o Ōrākei have “areas of interest” that cross over the Westhaven marina area.
Ngāti Whātua o Ōrākei declined to comment.
DOC is still waiting on the results of the necropsy.