Leopard seal at Lyall Bay dies

STAY CLEAR: The leopard seal at Lyall Bay.
ROSS GIBLIN/Fairfax NZ
STAY CLEAR: The leopard seal at Lyall Bay.

An Antarctic marine creature on Wellington's south coast has died while being transferred for treatment.

The leopard seal, which appeared hurt, was first spotted on Lyall Bay this morning.

A Wellington Zoo spokeswoman said staff, along with staff from SPCA, today went to the beach to anaesthetise the seal to take it to the zoo for treatment.

But it died en-route. It had already been evaluated as being very unwell, with a large abscess on its neck which meant it could not eat. Onlookers also saw damage to its tail.

Leopard seals, usually from Antarctic and subantarctic regions, had slender bodies, large heads and massive jaws, and had been known to kill people, Conservation Department spokesman Matt Barnett said.

''Apart from  a human, it's probably the most dangerous mammal you are likely to encounter on New Zealand shores.''

The seals, which occasionally made their way to New Zealand shores, had killed people in Antarctica when looking for something to eat.

About three or four of them had found their way to the North Island in recent years, though they were more common in the South Island.

''Our advice is to stay well clear of them. They will make a mess of your dog.''

The seals prey on a variety of species including fish and seabirds and are the only seals known to hunt and kill warm-blooded prey, including other seals.

Carmel Levy , from the Ekim burger caravan on Lyall Bay, called the Department of Conservation after she arrived to work about 10am. 

The seal had a cut back tail and some onlookers had speculated it had a broken back - though this was unconfirmed.

''There was a few people on the beach earlier who thought it was a good idea to get a stick and push it back in the sea,'' she said.

Others had got very close to the creature and it had tried to shuffle away, she said.

The Dominion Post