Seal victim's fitness saves day

17:00, Jun 01 2014
New Plymouth seal attack
NOT FRIENDLY: The seal which left an elderly man seriously injured after an attack on New Plymouth's Coastal Walkway on Saturday.

His passion for walking resulted in him being attacked by a seal, but it is also the reason 85-year-old Arthur Lester survived the encounter, his son says.

Lester was bitten by an 100kg male fur seal while out walking on the Coastal Walkway on Saturday morning. He was left with a severe gash to his calf and later had surgery.

Passers-by tended to him before paramedics arrived and treated him while armed police provided a protective barrier against the seal.

Greg Lester said his father survived the attack because he has the fitness of a man half his age.

"He's got the heart rate and blood pressure of a 30-year-old."

His father walked his 25th Taranaki Daily News Half Marathon last year.


"He'll survive it because of his fitness, but because he's such a fitness fanatic he was out there and got chomped by a seal," Greg Lester said.

He said it seemed unusual to call Arthur an elderly gentleman when he was as active as he was.

"He's done 25 half marathons, he might not get one in this year but his fitness has been a huge advantage in pulling him through."

Arthur Lester requires several more operations but will be up and about in a couple of weeks.

"The injuries are repairable, he'll be walking again.

"But the bigger concern is infection because you never know what's on a seal's teeth."

Greg Lester works offshore and sees a lot of seals around the rig platform.

"They look lovely but I've seen them fight each other and they're very vicious.

"They've got one hell of a bite on them, when you see them with a fish they chew that up pretty quickly, so my poor old dad's calf didn't stand a chance really."

Department of Conservation staff shooed the seal back into the water after the attack, and DOC staff members stayed nearby throughout the day to ensure it didn't venture back onto the walkway.

DOC spokesman Darryn Ratana said the seal was still in the area yesterday.

DOC staff had put up danger tape 100m either side of where the seal was to warn walkway users, Ratana said.

The seal had moved northwards from the attack site, below Belt Road Seaside Holiday Park, and was yesterday below the Aquatic Centre complex.

"He's just enjoying the sun and having a bit of a rest," Ratana said.

"We're hoping he'll go out on the high tide this afternoon."

Ratana said the seal was fine where he was as long as people stayed clear.

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

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

Ratana said unprovoked attacks had 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 signs warning people about seals in the area.

Eyewitness Kevin Harvey, of New Plymouth, said the seal lunged at him while he was on his morning run.

"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."

Taranaki Daily News