Leop­ard seal chills in Westhaven ma­rina

Auckland City Harbour News - - YOUR PAPER, YOUR PLACE - CA­TRIN OWEN

A leop­ard seal is mak­ing her pres­ence well-known in the Waitem­ata Har­bour, mak­ing Westhaven Ma­rina her home and be­com­ing some­what of a nui­sance.

The Na­tional In­sti­tute of Wa­ter and At­mos­phere (Niwa) Auck­land’s ma­rine biose­cu­rity team had to called off a dive for the Min­istry of Pri­mary In­dus­tries last week as a pre­cau­tion.

Seals are known to be ag­gres­sive to hu­mans.

Niwa ma­rine ecol­ogy tech­ni­cian An­drew Miller says they will let the seal move on be­fore at­tempt­ing to do the dive again.

‘‘We de­cided to not [dive] as a pre­cau­tion­ary mea­sure as they’ve been known to be ag­gres­sive and they’re quite big beasts with sharp teeth.’’

In 2003 a snorkelling bi­ol­o­gist was killed by one, but that is the only death at­trib­uted to the mam­mals. Leop­ard seals are big mam­mals and nor­mally found along the edge of the Antarc­tic. Fe­male seals usu­ally weigh around 300 kilo­grams. They are the sec­ond largest species of seal in the Antarc­tic, af­ter the south­ern ele­phant seal. Leop­ard seals are pro­tected un­der the Wildlife Act 1953 and the Ma­rine Mam­mal Pro­tec­tion Act 1978.

Miller says the seals are known to oc­ca­sion­ally come up to the warmer waters of New Zealand. How­ever, it’s un­com­mon for a seal to stay for this length of time, he says.

The fe­male seal has been quite happy swim­ming through the whole of the Waitem­ata Har­bour and has been up to St He­liers and even up as far as Bream Bay. Miller says the Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion has been mon­i­tor­ing the seal closely and is ask­ing mem­bers of the pub­lic to take a pic­ture and send it in to mon­i­tor her lo­ca­tion.

‘‘We’re not sure whether or not it was sick when it ar­rived and just stayed on, but DOC says it seems happy.’’

It’s an of­fence un­der the Ma­rine Mam­mals Pro­tec­tion Act 1978 to dis­turb, ha­rass, harm, in­jure or kill a seal.

HOW TO AP­PROACH SEALS

• Stay at least 20m away.

• Don’t dis­turb seals by mak­ing loud noises or throw­ing things.

• Keep dogs and chil­dren away.

• Don’t feed them.

• Never at­tempt to touch a seal.

Visit doc.govt.nz for more in­for­ma­tion.

SUP­PLIED

A fe­male leop­ard seal has made her­self at home in the Waitem­ata Har­bour.

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