Date: 15 December 2009
A leopard seal has been an unusual visitor to Tasman Bay in recent months and the Department of Conservation is warning anyone encountering it to keep well away from it 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.
DOC marine ecologist Andrew Baxter said leopard seals were mostly found around sub-Antarctic and Antarctic areas and were infrequent visitors this far north.
The leopard seal in Tasman Bay
“We have had leopard seal sightings reported in recent months at Ruby Bay, Anchorage and at Delaware Bay last week. It could be the same leopard seal or there could be more than one.
“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.
“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.”
Report sightings to Motueka Area Office during weekday office hours on +64 3 528 1810
Image: For electronic images of the leopard seal at Delaware Bay contact Trish Grant (contact details below).
Media contacts: Andrew Baxter, Marine Technical Support Officer, phone +64 3 546 3172, or
Trish Grant, Community Relations Officer (media) phone +64 3 546 3146, email firstname.lastname@example.org