Man attacked by seal

An elderly man is in serious condition in hospital this morning after he was ambushed by a seal at a New Plymouth beach.

Ambulance Control spokeswoman Anita Halbert said they were called to Belt road at 8.15am, where a man in his late 70s was suffering serious lower leg injuries.

'We called the police to let them know the danger involved in the situation, when we arrived the seal was still there," Halbert said.

The victim was transported to Taranaki Base Hospital in serious condition. Department of Conservation staff were also called to the scene to attend to the seal.

The ranger who attended found it basking on a nearby rock and set to work shooing it back into the ocean, Department of Conservation Partnerships manager Ngamotu New Plymouth Darryn Ratana said.

"Our thoughts go to the gentleman who was attacked and to his family, hoping for a speedy recovery," Ratana said.

Seals have huge teeth and can have a very nasty bite and can carry diseases. Usually they would only attack if provoked, but in this case the victim was simply walking along the walkway when the seal ambushed him, Ratana said.

Although some locals had been asking for fencing along the coastal walkway, that was not needed, he said. "It is a lovely walkway and I think the people of New Plymouth want to keep it the way it is."

Ratana said he would instead be discussing improved warning signage with Taranaki District Council.

- Herald on Sunday

Aberrant behaviour

Now the NZ Herald is reporting that a holiday park owner called DOC 15 minutes before the attack occurred to report the seal's unusual behavior. They could not arrive in time to stop the attack. DOC may be too short-staffed. Or the existing DOC emergency system is not working effectively and could be improved. 

Territoriality or illness

The seal could have been feeling territorial. After all, the ocean and the coastline are habitats for a seals and it seems we have to respect this and be more alert when sharing their habitat. Animals can also be aggressive when ill or diseased. 

I believe it

I wonder what type of "seal" this was, or if it was rather a sea lion? As a surfer, I've had sea lions spot me from several hundred meters away and make a bee-line towards me, concealing themselves underwater for the last part of the approach, only to spring up right next to me, or into bottom of my board, and then chase me to and up the beach with teeth nashing. I've seen this happen to people on the beach as well who were nowhere near to breaching the "safe distance" described by signs. Sea lions and seals, iike dogs and bears, are capable of cognition and display pretty sophisticated strategies in conflict - not excluding ambush. Ironically I think it's DOC that really anthropomorphizes these animals into cartoon characters in order to elicit public sympathy for their protection (with signs describing them as "playful"), while many of the ocean users that have regular encounters with them (surfers/fisherman) have very different experiences. 

Maybe more to this story?

I have to agree with the previous poster that there might be more to this story. I've seen way too many people getting way too close to seals and even much larger sea lions! In this case, maybe he didn't get too close but just wasn't paying attention to his surroundings and startled the seal. Or maybe his eyesight is not so great. Just today, I was walking at Katiki Point Lighthouse and almost stumbled across a seal myself because I was so distracted by the gorgeous coastal views I didn't notice that there were seals resting on the pathway. This has also happened to me on the Sandymount Track at Sandfly Bay, where sea lions can be sleeping in the tall grass near the bottom of the track. They can be well camouflaged. I saw a sea lion on the sands of St. Clair Beach yesterday but thought it was a log at first (also, my eyesight is not that great). After I realized it was a sea lion, I took a detour through the field above the beach so the large creature could continue to rest. 


Do you really believe this unfortunate man was 'ambushed' by the seal? Which puts the blame for the incident on the seal's predetermined plan to attack? Or do you believe the more realistic scenario, which is this unfortunate man got too close to the seal and the seal reacted accordingly for a wild animal that thought it was under threat. I hope he's OK though....and the poor man.

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