A business owner accused of attacking a leopard seal says he merely prodded it to get it off a floating pontoon.
Tony Munroe, owner of Pupurangi Hire and Tour, launches kayaks and pedal boats from a floating pontoon that is part of his business based at Whangarei's Town Basin.
A young male leopard seal, who has been nicknamed Hatea, has been flopping around the Town Basin since Monday. On Tuesday afternoon he was lying on the Pupurangi Hire and Tour pontoon.
"I went away for lunch and came back and I saw these people looking down at the seal. I had to do some work on my shop so what I did was I got a long pole and just gave it three pokes and it jumped off. [I did it] so it would get off my pontoon, so I could operate my pontoon."
He said he only prodded the seal "really lightly" and to suggest it was an attack was "stupid".
But Giverny Forbes, a research assistant with leopardseal.org, is taking the incident seriously and has complained to the Department of Conservation.
Ms Forbes received reports about an incident involving Hatea about 3.30pm on Tuesday.
"It's really disappointing to hear because obviously the community has been so good at looking after this seal and been respectful of him so far."
Ms Forbes said witnesses had taken videos, and a complaint had been made with the Department of Conservation because leopard seals are protected under the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978.
DoC spokeswoman Abi Monteith confirmed DoC had been made aware of the incident and were waiting on video footage before deciding whether to prosecute or not.
Once the video footage was received it would be reviewed and looked at by the legal team, she said.
Mr Munroe said he had a background in conservation work which included helping with whale strandings.
"I never hit it, I didn't want to hit it. I just prodded it."
Yesterday Hatea was back on B pier in the Basin, where it had been on Tuesday, forcing some residents to row ashore.
Kevin Atkins, whose boat Kaychelle is docked on B pier, said it was the first time he had seen a leopard seal in the 10 years he had lived in the Town Basin.
"Twice I had to row around. I'm just complying with the researcher's requests.
"He [Hatea] leaves me alone, I'll leave him alone, and we can live happily ever after," Mr Atkins said.
Ms Monteith said leopard seals were "very dangerous" and people should stay at least 20 metres away, and should definitely not approach them.