Tourists visiting Aussie capital city warned to stay away from popular 700kg attraction

Neil the seal is back in Tasmania and authorities are warning he could be dangerous.

A crowd of people in Hobart crowding around an unseen seal.
In 2023 fans mobbed Neil the seal. This year they've been warned to stay away because he needs to rest. Source: Pulse Tasmania

Tourists visiting Australia’s coldest capital city are being warned to stay away from an increasingly popular attraction. Neil the seal is back in Hobart, and authorities are urging fans of the 700kg juvenile to give him space.

Tasmanian authorities are keeping Neil’s location a secret after the “celebrity seal” became a TikTok sensation in 2023, drawing curious onlookers. “He’s here to rest and we really need the public to allow him to do so. He’s just spent five months at sea feeding… [and] he is getting bigger and bigger,” wildlife biologist Dr Kris Carlyon said on Friday.

During his last visit, Neil was photographed lounging in a popular park, lying across a road and visiting someone's home. But after large crowds gathered around the animal, some with their dogs, the Marine Conservation Program (MCP) was forced to relocate him.

“We really ask that everybody doesn’t share his location if they come across it. That’s for his own safety… and for human safety,” Carlyon said.

The warning is just the latest sign that Aussies might becoming too familiar with dangerous wildlife, particularly those who want to take images for their Instagram accounts.

In Queensland, influencers have been warned to stop taking dangerous risks with deadly inland taipans after several uploaded images of themselves trying to emulate the late Steve Irwin.

Two images of Neil the seal in 2024.
Photos taken in May reveal Neil the seal is back. Source: Department of Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania

Sadly on Anzac Day, crowds of people got in the way of rescuers trying to save a pod of 100 whales that beached themselves on a Western Australian beach. Some children reportedly posed on top of dead whales so their parents could take photos.

And the growing popularity of magpies on social media is causing its own problems, with bird lovers often coaxing them inside, or even clipping their wings so they can't fly away.

Tourists too have ventured dangerously close to wildlife. Most recently a woman was knocked down by a kangaroo.

In 2023, authorities were forced to move Neil due to threats posed by people. During this time they glued a satellite device to his head which allowed scientists to understand more about his offshore foraging behaviour.

This year, they hope they won't have to capture him again. MCP has warned doing so would be risky, as it would require him to be sedated. “We really risk doing harm to Neil in that process, they’ve got a really unique physiology, elephant seals, which means they can not respond particularly well to sedation,” Carlyon said.

Because Neil is a wild animal his behaviour can be “unpredictable”. In 2023, Anthrozoologist Dr Bruce Englefield told Yahoo there was a danger in people anthropomorphising him. “As soon as you give them a name, people think of them as being like humans. It creates a problem of thinking he’s lovely and cuddly, but he’s not — he’s… a wild animal who could kill you.”

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