The decapitated bodies of several sea lions found on the beaches of Vancouver Island, Canada, has sparked concerns someone is hacking them apart.
While it is unclear how the creatures died, Anna Hall – a marine mammal zoologist at Sea View Marine Sciences – suspects humans are to blame.
She told local media: “To me, this looks intentional, whether it’s by a single person or a group of people.
“I sincerely hope that Fisheries and Oceans Canada pursues this case to determine who is doing this and to bring them to justice because this is a violation of federal law.”
The strange occurrences were first spotted in April by Deborah Short while she was walking her dog along the shore.
She said: “At first I thought it was a log and then as I got closer, I realised it was a sea lion. I immediately walked over in that direction, only to discover that its head had been severed.
“I was just sick to my stomach.”
In June, Ms Short spotted another headless sea lion lying close to a skinned one.
Others who have found mutilated sea lions have sent their photos to Ms Short, who said there have been at least five cases.
One showed a sea lion with a clean skull left next to its body.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada confirmed it was looking into the bizarre case.
A spokesman told local media: “From time to time, individuals may tamper with the animals once beached.
“If this is determined to have been done in an effort to knowingly tamper with evidence, this would be an offence under the criminal code of Canada.”
It comes after more than 350 elephants in Botswana mysteriously dropped dead after they were spotted walking around in circles.
Anthrax was first considered a likely cause but has now been ruled out.
Zimbabwean poachers often use cyanide to poison elephants, but this possibility seems unlikely because scavenging animals such as hyenas haven’t died after eating the carcasses.
Conservationists are urging local authorities to protect the bodies of the elephants so that poachers don’t take their tusks, which are needed for testing to determine exactly what happened to the animals.