Skipper slammed for plowing into protected seabirds

A skipper has been prosecuted for deliberately plowing his speedboat into protected seabirds.

An Auckland man has been fined $2500 after he was prosecuted for deliberately skippering a speedboat through a flock of protected seabirds, and then sharing a video of the incident on social media.

Matthew Jurlina, a professional rugby player, was prosecuted by DOC after investigators were alerted to a video of the incident shared on Instagram in 2022. He appeared for sentencing in the North Shore District Court on the 24th of January this year.

The video included an overlay of text which read “We (expletive) love birds, ay”. People on board the vessel are seen and heard yelling and laughing as the boat goes directly through the clearly visible flock.

The flock of protected tītī wainui (fairy prion) was resting on the surface of the water near Simpson’s Rock in the Tīkapa Moana (Hauraki Gulf).

Dylan Swain, DOC’s Investigations Team Leader, says the defendant did not attempt to slow down or alter his course to avoid striking the seabirds – behaviour which was recorded in the video posted on Instagram.

“The boat ploughed right through the middle of a large flock at high speed. Based on the video evidence, it’s highly likely birds were hit by the boat – either killing them instantly or breaking bones, leaving them unable to swim or fly, and therefore they would starve to death,” Swain explains.

Tītī wainui (fairy prions) are a small seabird found throughout New Zealand that feed in large flocks on the ocean surface, and by shallow diving to take prey, putting them at risk from vessel strike.

Speed is the critical risk factor for seabirds, as given enough time, they can easily avoid moving vessels.

“Our message to boaties is about responsible use of their vessels around wildlife – slow down immediately if you see a flock of seabirds on the water, and alter your course away from them,” Swain says.

“It’s time for New Zealanders to consider seabirds and gulls as important, protected wildlife, just like a kiwi. They don’t deserve to be deliberately harmed on the water or chased by dogs on land – behaviour like this disturbs them and can kill them,” he continues.

Swain also urged social media users to report any videos or posts showing harm to protected wildlife to report it to DOC via 0800 DOC HOT.

“The public can be our eyes and ears in protecting threatened wildlife – we will investigate if we’re provided with information and links to what people have seen.”

It is an offence under the Wildlife Act to harass, hunt or kill protected species. Offenders can be sentenced to up to two years imprisonment and issued a fine of up to $250,000.

In 2022, DOC successfully prosecuted a Manawatu man who took a venomous and protected sea snake from a beach, posted videos of his exploits to social media – and ignored DOC advice to return the animal to the beach.

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