A New Zealand fur seal surprised a gang of road workers when it emerged from a hedge in Dunedin more than 1km from the sea yesterday.
The 150kg seal then led his would-be rescuers on a merry dance through a succession of backyards, before happily ending up back in the water.
The male adult was spotted coming out of a hedge on Spottiswoode St in Andersons Bay about 8.20am, before making its way along Gresham St and ducking down a pathway into No 16.
From there, it travelled through four backyards, before settling on a sunny, daisy-strewn patch of grass under a clothesline in the backyard of 26a Gresham St.
"It's not the sort of thing you'd want to come across when you're getting the paper out of the mailbox in the morning," resident John Fiddes said.
"I was taking a video of it coming along the road and I fell over backwards. I've never seen a seal here before and we've been here since 1970."
Neighbourhood dogs made their feelings about the intruder known while police and Department of Conservation (DoC) staff contained the animal.
"It's the biggest one I've seen in a surburban environment," DoC coastal ranger Jim Fyfe said.
"You'll occasionally get sea lions wandering about, but it's unusual to see fur seals this far inland. It's also breeding season, so most of the big males are holding harems down the coastline."
DoC staff considered sedating the seal, but learned a vet would not be available until late in the day.
The decision was made to attempt to capture it in a body sock net, roll it on to a board and lift it on to the back of a ute.
The seal noisily protested at some length during this indignity, but it was safely transported to Tomahawk Beach, where it gave a final snort of disgust and was last seen heading into the surf at 2.10pm.
"It's always good to see them swim away. It went very smoothly. They're wild animals, so you never know how it's going to go," Mr Fyfe said.
DoC staff were mystified as to how the seal came to be in the area.