Homer's night odyssey blacks out restaurant

GISBORNE - Homer the elephant seal knocked out a Gisborne restaurant's power supply after evading barriers meant to contain him and crossing a road.

Homer has damaged a car, boat trailers and a pohutukawa tree and knocked over a rubbish bin since he arrived last month.

The barriers, meant to hold him on a concrete boat ramp he has adopted as home, moved on Thursday night in a southerly swell, and he took the chance to make more mischief.

He crossed the road to the Works Restaurant, where he rubbed against a power box, knocking over a pole and cutting off power.

Next morning he was back on the boat ramp sleeping.

The barriers had washed out to sea and the Gisborne City Council and the Department of Conservation are looking at other ways to contain him.

The founder of Marine Watch Trust New Zealand, Jim Lilley, now believes Homer is the seal that has visited Christchurch in recent years.

Mr Lilley has watched video footage of Homer and, by comparing his scar patterns with those on the Christchurch seal - dubbed Dumbo in the South Island - he has concluded there is a 90-95 per cent chance they are the same animal.

"Dumbo started visiting Christchurch five years ago but hasn't turned up for the past couple of seasons," said DoC publicity officer Jill Hudson.

"The problem is that, while we believe Homer is still a teenager, we don't know how old elephants seals are when they mature. But it still looks likely that Homer is, in fact, Dumbo."

Homer continues to make world news. He has featured on the international television news service CNN, and yesterday morning an Australian radio station called to check his progress.

And a police patrol in Gisborne was surprised on Thursday to see a tour bus full of Americans pull up at 1 am to see him.

Dumbo caused several problems during his visits to Christchurch. He was harassed by humans and harassed them back.

He visited the shopping centre near New Brighton, his favourite beach, tore apart council rubbish bins and wrote off two cars that collapsed under his weight.

"Apparently Dumbo was a real climber and when he was smaller climbed a two-metre-high wall," DoC's Ms Hudson said.

Mr Lilley said the colours blue and red tended to make Dumbo aggressive, while he saw yellow as a signal to play.

Though DoC staff had warned the public to keep their distance from the 2000kg marine mammal, Ms Hudson said some were still getting too close.

A few people were even continuing to feed him.

"That kind of behaviour really is unbelievable ... we don't want him to start chasing people for food, and he is perfectly capable of getting the food he needs himself.

"He can move surprisingly quickly, and we want to make sure that both he and the public are kept safe."

- NZPA

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