Tourist's close encounter with leopard seal

A tourist gets up close and personal with a lepoard seal at Breaker Bay in Kaiteriteri on Sunday.
Logan Coote

A tourist gets up close and personal with a lepoard seal at Breaker Bay in Kaiteriteri on Sunday.

With a cigarette hanging out of his mouth the German tourist squatted down next to the leopard seal and tried to snap a photograph.

Then he went in for the selfie.

Logan Coote witnessed the curious scene while out for a walk with his partner at Kaiteriteri near Nelson on Sunday.

A tourist takes a photo of  leopard seal at Breaker Bay near Kaiteriteri.
Logan Coote

A tourist takes a photo of leopard seal at Breaker Bay near Kaiteriteri.

"We pretty much tripped over the seal from the back end which was better than coming face to face with the bitey part," he said. "The tourists that were there already taking pictures didn't warn us it was there ... I'm sure the tourists got way too close." 

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But there was no way Coote was getting close. He knew the seal's disproportionately large head, massive jaws and impressive teeth could do some serious damage.

A leopard seal at Breakers Bay in Kaiteriteri.
Logan Coote

A leopard seal at Breakers Bay in Kaiteriteri.

"[The seal] was really annoyed. It did have a bit of a lunge at them and scared them which was quite funny."

While they can look harmless, seals can inflict serious injuries to dogs or people and can carry infectious diseases, according to the Department of Conservation operations manager biodiversity at Motueka, Chris Golding.

 

 

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He warned anyone encountering the seal to keep well away for their safety.

 

"Although the large size of leopard seals may create the impression they are cumbersome and slow, they can in fact move surprisingly quickly on land and even faster in the water and their powerful jaws can inflict serious injury."

Leopard seals were mostly found around sub-Antarctic and Antarctic areas and were infrequent visitors this far north.

"If the leopard seal is basking on the beach or swimming around in the sea and is fine then people should just leave it be, but if it is seen in a situation in which it poses a threat to the public or is at risk, people should contact the DOC 24-hour emergency number 0800 DOCHOT (0800 36 24 68) so we can deal with it.

"Anyone encountering a leopard seal should keep at least 20 metres away from it and not disturb it.  Leopard seals can be aggressive if agitated and while they can appear docile resting on shore, they can lunge powerfully and quickly. They can easily crush a person and their formidable jaws can inflict a severe crushing bite."

People should not get between the seal and its access to water, he said.

"We also advise people to make sure their dogs do not harass seals – fur seals as well as leopard seals – and to keep dogs well away from them.

"Leopard seals should be respected for the impressive marine mammals that they are but observed from a safe distance.

It is an offence under the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978 (MMPA) to disturb, harass, harm, injure or kill a seal. Anyone charged under the MMPA with harassing, disturbing, injuring or killing a seal faces a maximum penalty of two years' imprisonment or a fine to a maximum of $250,000.

Coote has his own suggestion.

"Stay away, use your zoom and don't try and get selfies with them."

 - Stuff

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