Eating can be a bloody business

Oamaru's leopard seal appears to have eaten some of Oamaru's other wildlife before settling down for a nap at the harbour. Photo: Supplied
Oamaru's leopard seal appears to have eaten some of Oamaru's other wildlife before settling down for a nap at the harbour. Photo: Supplied
It could have been the blood of prey, or it could have been blood caused by prey.

But when the 2m young adult male leopard seal that has now visited Oamaru Harbour four times this month hauled out for a rest near Normanby Wharf, a ring of blood circled its mouth and some appeared to be dripping from its nostril.

Niwa marine mammal biologist, and Leopard

Seals.org researcher, Krista Hupman, of Wellington, said the animals were ''very opportunistic'' feeders. They had been recorded having eaten a wide range of animals, including fur seals, ducks, and even a sheep.

''They also seem to be prone to quite a few injuries as well; I've seen some animals with fish barbs, or stingray barbs, through the tops of their mouths and that's actually created a lot of blood, which has then gone all around their mouth,'' Dr Hupman said.

''I wouldn't put anything, really, past a leopard seal. Without worrying the community about their penguin colony, I really have found that leopard seals in New Zealand will feed on pretty much anything.''

LeopardSeals.org research assistant Giverny Forbes, of Dunedin, said ''from photos it's near impossible to tell''.

''But it's highly unlikely that it will threaten the animal's life - it would actually be more life-threatening to the animal if we tried to sedate it and check out what was going on.

''The best thing we can do for him is to get photos of him the next time he pops up and compare them to this time and previous times to see how the injury might have affected whether he is able to feed or not.

''If an injury is impacting on how the seal feeds itself then that's how it might become quite a big issue.''

The animals were hardy and could recover from poor conditions.

Dr Hupman said leopard seals remained classified as vagrant, meaning there were theoretically only 15 individuals in New Zealand in any given year, but with the LeopardSeals.org sightings database, allowing photo IDs of individuals, ''we have way more than 15 individuals every year in the country''.

hamish.maclean@odt.co.nz


 

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