Public tormenting seals

 —  30/10/2009

I was on stand-by duty over Labour Weekend.  We got a call to say there was a sick fur seal at Riversdale and I was provided with a name and phone number.  I gave the person a call but there was no answer so decided about 4.45pm that I would take a trip to go and investigate.

We get a few calls about NZ fur seals because there are so many on our coastline here in Wairarapa.  Cape Palliser has one of the few rookeries (where babies are born and spend their first 9 months) in the lower North Island and as numbers begin to grow the seals are appearing much further north in haul-out areas (places where they come to relax after a hard day’s swimming and eating).  Most calls don’t come to anything because people interpret seals chilling out in the sun as not being well but we still need to investigate.

Fur seal

Fur seal relaxing at Palliser Bay by Joe Hansen, DOC

This time, however, I did find a very sick looking seal on the beach.  He (I think it was a young male) was at the southern end of the beach.  As I approached in our DOC ute along the beach I was assessing the scene and noticed quads/motorcycles, dogs and people including animals quite close to it.  The site of the sick seal was in a patch of beach that was only about 15 metres wide but rather than give the seal some space everyone was walking within 5 metres of where he lay panting.

I parked up and took a look around and within seconds had reports from public that he’d been lying there for sometime without moving.  A group of 6 or so children (aged around 12) walked up and asked me some questions about seals and then while I was talking on the phone one picked up a stick and was about to start prodding it.  I was quite blown away that they could do something so mean to something so vulnerable but also who is a large mammal with sharp teeth.  I tried to retain my composure and asked them to walk away and leave it alone.

The seal was obviously unwell and was the skinniest I’ve seen so I knew it wasn’t going to survive and had the unfortunate task of deciding to put the seal down.  While I was away organising this the children returned and I felt really uncomfortable about leaving it alone so went back and parked the ute close to it.  The children had seen me coming and were sprinting away.

I’ve not been faced with this situation before where people were torturing an animal that obviously was struggling to breathe.  I actually felt quite sick and upset.  If that seal was well enough to respond they could have been in danger.

In our role at DOC we spend a lot of time talking about seals as they are a beautiful (yet smelly) creature that has a right to relax on our beaches and their numbers are growing more plentiful.  They would never intentionally hurt someone but are strong and fast and people need to beware.

Here are some other facts about being close to NZ fur seals and more information can be found on DOC’s website.

Rules for observing seals

  • Observe the seal quietly
  • Always keep dogs and small children well away from seals
  • Avoid getting nearer than 20 metres to the seal
  • Do not touch the seal under any circumstances
  • Do not get between the seal and its access to water
  • Do not feed the seal
Seals C Palliser Oct 09

Basking in the sun Oct 2009 by Joe Hansen