Bullet for seal pup 'the only option'

KIRSTY MCMURRAY
Last updated 05:00 13/12/2012
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The seal pup found distressed at Back Beach

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A New Plymouth woman is outraged a seal pup she found shivering on the beach was shot by the Department of Conservation because there was nowhere for it to be rehabilitated.

After discovering the orphan seal last week, Kellie Hoy has talked to international seal experts who were upset to learn of the seal's fate and say it could have been rehabilitated and then returned to the wild.

But DOC marine ranger Callum Lilley said shooting the pup was an acknowledged method of humane animal euthanasia and really the only option.

"I know for a member of the public it might seem cruel or harsh but sometimes we have to balance things up and make some difficult decisions."

Miss Hoy came across the seal pup while walking her dogs near Shark Alley at Back Beach on Friday morning and recognised the animal was in trouble.

"It was shivering and obviously distressed."

Miss Hoy said she waited in the rain for three hours for DOC to arrive, during which time she and another passer-by constructed a sandcastle and rock shelter for the animal, wrapped it in her jacket and tried to warm it up.

The seal, which she named Sammy, was tiny.

Mr Lilley said it was likely big swells had swept the newborn pup off the nearby Seal Rocks or Whareumu, the lion rock, and away from its mother.

Mr Lilley said he followed the DOC process concerning marine mammals.

"I sought additional advice from departmental seal experts in Kaikoura because we were exploring other options, you know, if there is anywhere else we can send it for rehabilitation."

But there was nowhere.

"We don't really have too many places we can send them and the places we can send them are essentially zoos," he said.

Mr Lilley said the seal was simply too young to survive and thrive, with or without human intervention.

"It's been washed to shore and it's been exhausted.

"The chances are extremely remote that it's going to be reunited with its mother.

"The problem we have with such small seals like that is that we can provide them with nutrition until they are of an age to wean.

"But we can't teach them to swim or fend for themselves," Mr Lilley said.

"That's what mothers do, they train seal pups to live life and survive and to swim out and find fish and where to feed and find squid and fish."

Miss Hoy, after doing some research, got in contact with Dr Sue Wilson, a seal expert and scientist from Ireland who is involved with several international seal projects.

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With the encouragement of Dr Wilson, Miss Hoy began to investigate the possibility of setting up a seal rehabilitation programme in Taranaki.

"There's a few people that I've spoken to already who are very passionate about getting on board and getting it under way," she said.

- Taranaki Daily News

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