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Police received a complaint on Wednesday about the video circulating on social media app Snapchat which depicted animals being harmed in Kaikoura.
The complainant said: "I saw a man with a large knife stand on a seal that had an obvious gash."
"He then proceeded to hold the seal down and stab the animal multiple times and laughing all the while he was filming himself and being filmed by another onlooker."
A police spokeswoman told NZME a 20-year-old man has been charged with cruelty and ill-treatment of an animal.
He has been bailed to appear in the Blenheim District Court next week.
Police inquiries to locate another person, understood to be a man who recorded the disturbing incident, are ongoing.