We had a rare visitor this week – an immature Leopard seal was found snoozing on the edge of the Waimapu Estuary, near Tauranga Airport.
Usually inhabiting Antarctic and Sub-Antarctic seas, these are the most ferocious of the seal species – just check out the teeth on this one.
Regardless of rarity – our approach to this seal was much the same as when the more common NZ fur seal turns up on Tauranga beaches – a regular occurance, especially during spring. We left him alone to rest, in the knowledge that he’ll eventually move on – although we did put up some warning signs in case an unwary member of the public got too close to those powerful jaws.
I had to explain our minimal intervention policy to a member of the public today – she had reported an unwell NZ fur seal pup and was disappointed that we’d done nothing to save it.
Letting nature take it’s course can sometimes be the hardest thing to do and it felt wrong to her that no-one would help – I can see the double-standard when our messages are usually about getting involved and making a difference.
The Department’s minimum intervention policy is in place due to the high human health risks involved in working with seals, low rehabilitation success rates and a focus on species conservation.
Seals carry diseases such as TB, seal finger and salmonella that are very easily transmitted to humans whom come into contact with them – there have been several examples of people becoming hospitalised following attempts to care for seals. For that reason, we discourage public contact with them.
Fur seals are breeding locally and come ashore to rest especially after heavy seas. Pups are leaving the rookery and can appear thin whilst they learn to find food for themselves. Pups that are unable to fend for themselves can become emaciated and die of starvation or other disease.
Seals often look like they are crying or weeping which people often mistake as a sign of illness or unhappiness, it is in fact the way that they excrete excess salt from their bodies.
Unless a seal is being harassed, is entangled in marine debris, is severely injured, or it presents a danger to the public, DOC leaves its management to the original expert, nature.
Seals with obvious injuries, in hazardous locations i.e. roads or being harassed, should be reported to the local DOC office. Conservation emergencies can be reported to a 24 hour hotline 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468).
Project Jonah runs marine mammal medic training and volunteer programmes that are focused on whales and dolphins and suggest ways that people can assist in the protection of whales, dolphins and seals.