Crowds of curious photographers are being urged to stay away after a rare 400kg animal wandered into an Australian city. While the massive seal has been given a cute name and even has his own social media hashtag, experts worry rubberneckers are forgetting one thing: “He could kill you”.
The presence of an endangered southern elephant seal has been drawing hundreds of people to a park in Hobart since he lumbered out of the River Derwent on Wednesday. Affectionately named Neil the Seal by locals, the species usually lives 1550km south on Macquarie Island. Experts worry the affection Neil is being given is part of the problem.
Anthrozoologist Dr Bruce Englefield believes there’s a danger in anthropomorphising the animal. “As soon as you give them a name, people think of them as being like humans. It creates a problem of thinking he’s a lovely and cuddly, but he’s not — he’s a 400kg wild animal who could kill you,” he told Yahoo News Australia.
Youths witnessed harassing Hobart's seal
The warning has been echoed by authorities who say people swamping him to get a better look are endangering their own lives and compromising the welfare of the seal. While most people have done the right thing and kept their distance, the exhausted seal is trying to rest and he’s getting little peace. Frustratingly, there have been multiple reports of youths harassing and touching him.
Sam Thalmann, a wildlife biologist with the government’s Marine Conservation Program, said he doesn’t want human safety put at risk.
“Elephant seals may seem unbothered by humans and people may think patting a wild animal makes good social media content, but the seal could be dangerous if harassed,” he said.
People visiting Kingston Beach where Neil was spotted today have been told to stay clear of him and keep a distance of at least 20 metres. Wildlife biologists will continue to monitor his welfare today and have vowed to seek assistance from police if required.
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Born in October, Neil is believed to be two and a half years old.
Neil is Tasmania's only resident elephant seal.
He was born on the Tasman Peninsula.
What can happen when people don't stay away from wildlife?
It’s not the first time public behaviour around a marine mammal has caused concern.
In August, authorities in Norway warned people to stay away from a charismatic walrus named Freya who was drawing huge crowds as she basked in the sun at an Oslo fjord. When the public did not comply, the government shot her dead.
"She didn’t do anything to anyone. She was just hanging out," animal advocates later said.
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