Beware the 'rottweilers of the sea' - DoC

By Roger Moroney -
DoC officer Tom Barr shows the savage set of teeth on the seal which died. Photo / Paul Taylor
DoC officer Tom Barr shows the savage set of teeth on the seal which died. Photo / Paul Taylor

They look cute and cuddly, and have big shiny dark eyes which can melt a heart.

They also have bacteria-stacked razor sharp teeth which will have a finger or two off in a split second.

"They are the rottweilers of the sea," was how Department of Conservation area compliance officer Tom Barr described the group of juvenile seals which made landfall in the Napier Inner Harbour yesterday morning.

"Oh, they look lovely, but they are wild animals and will have a go at you ... they are not nice things ... worse than a rabid pitbull," he said as he dangled a glove near the face of what appeared to be a sedate pup. Its snarl and baring of teeth as it prepared to lunge at the glove provided the reality.

Four seals arrived in the harbour and took to sunning themselves on rocks, although one, weakened by battling the easterly storms at sea, died soon after getting ashore. They attracted the attention of teenager Cory Pakai who was on his way to work about 8am.

"There were a couple over by Perfume Point yesterday. I've seen a few of them now," he said.

After spotting the dead seal he called the police, who in turn contacted DoC. Mr Barr said the seal was malnourished and may have had an illness. There was no evidence of foul play.

"It's just part of nature. It happens," he said, adding that people who intervened to try and assist what they believed were sick or injured seals, or who fed them, were unsettling that balance of nature.

"Don't feed them because they'll just keep coming back. They should be out there feeding," he said, pointing to the open sea. "It has become a real issue because they can domesticate quite quickly."

Mr Barr said with that came the increased danger they posed to people who believed they could be approached.

"By all means stand back, look at them, take a photo but under no circumstances go near them - just let them be."

He said in recent weeks he had been horrified to come across two incidents where people had got too close

On one occasion he arrived just as a teenager was putting his hand out to pat a seal which came ashore at Ahuriri.

The second occasion a woman was showing her toddler daughter a basking seal ... from less than a metre away. Mr Barr said the seals were "designed' to grab at fish so their teeth were strong and sharp. If they did not tear a couple of fingers off they would leave the victim hospitalised through the germs they carried.

He said DoC's stance was a simple one. "Seals need rest, not rescuing. Leave them alone and let nature run its course," Mr Barr said.

The department only needed to be called if they were spotted on a seafront road or section - "we've come across them sheltering in sheds" - or had clear injuries.

DoC were preparing to erect warning signs at coastal spots where seals were known to come ashore, and where people gathered. Temporary signs would also be put in place while the latest arrivals stayed at the inner harbour.

"We don't know how long they'll stay but we just ask they not be approached and definitely not be fed."

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