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Beloved sea lion Matariki and her pup killed in South Otago hit-and-run

The Department of Conservation is pleading for help after a tragic hit-and-run in South Otago that killed a sea lion and her pup. 

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The animals were well known to locals at Kaka Point, near Balclutha. Source: 1 NEWS

The sea lion was well-known to locals at Kaka Point, near Balclutha and it's a sad loss for the breeding population.  

Kaitangata dairy farmer Case Melone had to quickly learn a lot about sea lions after Matariki and her new pup chose his farm as their home last month.

"[The cows] were all huddled up behind me, standing in the corner, and quite often cows can get excited and inquisitive of the strangest things - it can be rabbit, hedgehog or a plastic bag - but no, this time it was a sea lion and her baby!" he told 1 NEWS today.

"It's a popular area for fish and whitebait, and I guess it was a great place for a maternity ward - [an] all-you-can-eat buffet not far to go."

Roughly 10 days ago, Matariki and her pup left the shed in Kaitangata and headed out towards Kaka Point and the ocean.

It was there that the Department of Conservation says a vehicle hit both of them.

The pup died almost immediately from its injuries, while Matariki had to be euthanised yesterday.

"Matariki was a bit of a favourite for our DOC staff and our team are certainly feeling it, and very sad," the conservation agency's John McCarroll told 1 NEWS.

The driver fled the scene. 

"That's probably the bit that... life and death is part of life, but for something like that, it's a big animal and they would have known that they'd hit something," Mr Melone says.

Matariki's death takes the number of breeding sea lions in the area down to just six.

"We appreciate and understand that accidents do happen on the road. What we'd really like to do is talk to those involved so we can understand exactly what happened," Mr McCarroll says.

It's a cruel loss for a community that's come to treasure its precious wildlife.