Seal of approval? Rescue services warn approaching Australian marine wildlife can be fraught

If you ever stumble upon a seal pup far from home, best leave it alone and call for help.

Humans (and their dogs) can pose a danger to seals, and the marine mammals can give humans tuberculosis.

Last week a South Australian farmer found a long-nosed fur seal 3km inland, and returned it to the ocean. The National Parks and Wildlife Service praised the rescue, saying it gave the seal its best chance of survival.

The seal was returned to the water on the Eyre Peninsula
The seal was returned to the water on the Eyre Peninsula. Photograph: Ty Kaden

The seal caught the nation’s attention after it was found in a wheat field by Eyre Peninsula farmer Ty Kaden, who then put it in his truck, took it to the beach, and released it into the water.

The seals are protected in SA, and their populations are still recovering after sealers nearly hunted them to extinction in the 19th century. The state environment department says generally people should stay at least 30m away from seals, and there are fines of up to $100,000 for killing or harming them.

But the danger is not one-sided. Adult seals can be aggressive, and even younger ones can spread diseases, according to the Australian Marine Wildlife Research and Rescue Organisation, which operates across South Australia.

The organisation’s founder, Aaron Machado, said anyone who spots a seal should call the organisation before putting themselves or the animal in danger. He said at this time of year, juvenile seals are returning from their “maiden voyage” away from the colony.

They travel hundreds of kilometres, and can be sick and tired at the end of their journey.

They can become disoriented and leave the relative safety of the water, Machado said.

“They can get a bit lost,” he said. “We’ve had quite a few calls over the weekend about juveniles around the state. This is normal.

“They’re returning from their first journey away from mum. They leave in January and come back in July or August.

“When they return they look underweight, skinny, they can be diseased … they can have tuberculosis. They’re a mammal. Tuberculosis is the most common zoonotic disease to be aware of. If they spit or bark, that’s the possibility.”

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Machado said the farmer had “good intentions” in returning the seal to the water.

“But good intentions can be very dangerous,” he said.

The organisation’s volunteers rescue, rehabilitate and release animals, depending on their health, when contacted by the public.

If you need help with a seal or other marine wildlife, contact AMWRRO on +61 8 8262 5452. The emergency paging service is +61 8 8378 3364


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