DOC and armed police guard attack seal

NOT FRIENDLY: The seal which left an elderly man seriously injured after an attack on New Plymouth's Coastal Walkway on Saturday.
NOT FRIENDLY: The seal which left an elderly man seriously injured after an attack on New Plymouth's Coastal Walkway on Saturday.

Armed police were called to stand guard against a rogue fur seal which attacked a pensioner on a Taranaki coastal walkway, leaving him hospitalised with a gash to the leg.

The 85-year-old man was on New Plymouth's Coastal Walkway yesterday morning when he accidentally surprised the 100kg mature male fur seal.

The animal lunged at him and bit his leg, slashing open his calf.

He was forced to limp about 20m, trailing blood, to escape. A trail of bloodstains on the walkway led from the attack site to where the man was tended to by passers-by before paramedics arrived.

St John paramedics treated the man at the scene while armed police provided a protective barrier against the seal, which was still nearby.

The man underwent surgery at Taranaki Base Hospital yesterday and is in a stable condition, hospital spokeswoman Sue Carrington said.

The man suffered a severe laceration but no artery was punctured, she said.

Department of Conservation spokesman Darryn Ratana said DOC staff remained at the attack site until evening.

"We chased it back into the water but it was hanging around still.

"We'll keep someone there as long as we need to to ensure the public are kept away from it."

If the seal continued to be a nuisance DOC would consider relocating it, as they did in February when a seal found its way onto a south Taranaki farm.

There was no need to destroy the seal at this stage, he said.

Ratana said an unprovoked attack was unusual, but the seal might have been surprised.

"It has been known to happen before. They are aggressive animals.

"Our advice to people is to give them a wide berth."

He had spoken with New Plymouth District Council staff about the need for more signage warning people about seals in the area.

It wasn't uncommon for seals to meander onto land.

"They will come up to bask in the sun as we enjoy to."

Eyewitness Kevin Harvey, of New Plymouth, was on his morning run when a noise caused him to look up.

"There was this seal coming towards me.

"I swiftly sidestepped and started to back off a bit but he kept on coming."

Harvey threw a few stones at the seal to scare it back onto the rocks so he could get past.

"I was about 6-8 metres away, any closer than that and I would have been mincemeat."

Harvey saw people attending a man on the ground and thought it must have been a cyclist who had come off.

"There was blood on the ground everywhere and obviously the seal had attacked the walker.

"He was bleeding quite bad."

Harvey ran to the end of the breakwater and when he returned there was an armed police officer at the scene.

"I thought, why not shoot the bloody thing, it's obviously a seal that's sick.

"Otherwise it wouldn't be up on the rocks on a day like today."

Harvey said he had seen seals on the walkway before but usually they backed off.

"This one was ferocious."

A seal was found relaxing on the Coastal Walkway near East End Reserve in November last year, but it showed no aggression.

Sunday Star Times