Owha the leopard seal wows ferry commuters

A 300kg leopard seal looks to be in Auckland to stay, as the hefty visitor makes itself a summer spectacle for ferry commuters.

Owha the female seal, which has been regularly spotted around Auckland over the past year, caused a stir among people catching the ferry from Bayswater Marina this morning.

Northcote man Craig McNish managed to snap a few pictures of the big animal as it lazed on a pontoon about 10 metres away.

"It was quite a hard-case sight on the way to work at quarter past eight in the morning," he said.

Others onboard quickly moved to one side of the ferry to get their own pictures.

"A lady next to me said it's the kind of thing you see at Kelly Tarlton's.

"But we weren't close enough to annoy it and no one was stupid enough to go up to it and take a really close photograph."

A Herald photographer who took further pictures of Owha today noted a fishing hook lodged in her left front flipper.

Conservation officers were working with veterinary staff at Auckland Zoo's New Zealand Centre for Conservation Medicine to remove the hook.

While leopard seals are normally found in Antarctica, Owha has been staying in New Zealand since at least 2015, when she was first sighted at the mouth of Ruakaka River, south of Whangarei.

Owha the leopard seal, pictured at Bayswater Marina, has been visiting New Zealand since 2015. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Owha the leopard seal, pictured at Bayswater Marina, has been visiting New Zealand since 2015. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Since moving south, she's been seen relaxing around Westhaven Marina, where a dive team from the National Institute of Water and Atmosphere recently had to put off a check for aquatic pests because of safety concerns.

As leopard seals are known to be aggressive when threatened - and can move surprisingly quickly on land and seriously injure people or animals who approach them - the Department of Conservation (DOC) has been urging people to stay at least 20m away.

Northcote man Craig McNish took this picture of Owha while stepping on to the Bayswater ferry this morning. Photo / Craig McNish
Northcote man Craig McNish took this picture of Owha while stepping on to the Bayswater ferry this morning. Photo / Craig McNish

DOC has also partnered with Wellington company ThunderMaps and Gemma McGrath, to enable a new free phone app to be used to monitor Owha's movements.

Mainly used for monitoring Hector's dolphins, the app has been modified so it can accept sightings of other marine mammals.

Anyone seeing Owha could instantly upload the location and photos.

People have been urged to stay at least 20m away from Owha. Photo / Sarah Peters
People have been urged to stay at least 20m away from Owha. Photo / Sarah Peters

The app was called "Hector's Dolphin Sightings" and was free to download from Google Play and the App Store.

The number of leopard seals spending time in New Zealand waters is rising.

In the last two years, DOC has received almost 100 reports of leopard seals at sites around New Zealand.

- NZ Herald

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