Several cases of seals being found dead and mutilated – including one case in which the decapitated head of a seal was displayed in a harbour – have been reported over the past year in western and northern France.
The killings were so disturbing that ocean advocacy group Sea Shepherd had offered a €10,000 reward for any information about the perpetrators.
Now three people have been interviewed by local police, and one arrested in connection with the killings, reported French newspaper Le Parisien.
Deux phoques décapités : les coupables identifiés. Pour les gendarmes “L'appel à témoin relayé par les médias ainsi que la promesse de récompense faite par l'ONG Sea Shepherd ont été déterminants.” ? Centre de soins de la faune sauvage de la LPA de Calais pic.twitter.com/ie1KianaZJ
— Sea Shepherd France (@SeaShepherdFran) 10 mai 2019
A spokesman for animal rights group NCO Gaultier said: “It all started in mid-February.
“We were contacted by the marina captain's office at Concarneu (in Brittany) who reported a harbour seal head hanging from a rope at the end of the wall.”
A month later, on March 10, a headless seal body in an advanced state of decomposition was found on a nearby beach.
A week later, a new headless carcas was discovered on the coast of the neighbouring town of Trégunc.
Once again, the head, which had not been found, had been severed with a sharp object, “probably a simple fishing knife”.
The man held in custody is reported to be a member of the local fishing community.
The Local France reported on another spate of seal murders in 2018, in which local fishermen were also suspected of carrying out the barbaric acts.
Their prime suspects back then were a group of fishermen who'd set up an anti-seal collective, due to the fact that the seals deplete the local fish resources.
“This anti-seal collective may or may not be directly responsible for poaching, but it is certain that it is responsible for a climate of hatred and resentment towards these animals,” regional head of Sea Shepherd, Lamya Essemlali told French radio channel Europe 1 at the time.
Other animal right activists have also preferred not to paint the whole region's community with the same brush.
“Generally, fishermen and boaters respect seals,” NCO Gautier told Le Parisien,
“They're a protected species, very present on our shores and appreciated by all.
“They're also predatory animals that feed on many fish and have their hunting areas.”
Killing seals is a criminal offense in France that can range from a € 3,750 fine to two years in prison and a €150,000 penalty for those found guilty.