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Seal offers free nature lesson to pupils in lockdown

Flagstaff Team

Fur patrol… A sunbathing seal pup created a flurry of interest at Cheltenham Beach last week. Photo Kathryn Nobbs Photography

The appearance of a young seal on Cheltenham Beach proved a drawcard for walkers last Thursday.

Most gave the pup the required wide berth as it lazed in sun at the northern end of the beach. It was the second seal visit to Devonport shores in the the last month.

Five-year-old Olivia Lancaster described the seal, which blended in with washed-up seaweed near the water’s edge, as looking like “a rock”.

Seal of approval… Alice Berryman and daughter Olivia Lancaster (5) were among family groups checking out the pup on Cheltenham Beach

Her mother, Alice Berryman, said growing up near Cheltenham Beach “we never ever saw seals”. They now seemed more abundant in the Hauraki Gulf.

Sightings are certainly rare enough to draw interest, however, with a few dozen people, mostly family groups, gravitating to the beach for a spontaneous nature lesson to break up home-schooling during lockdown.

Olivia is in her first year at Devonport Primary School. Berryman, a part-time graphic designer, said with her daughter at home she was thankful she had an employer with realistic expectations. “It’s hard trying to work at the same time.”

The junior school day started with a half-hour online lesson in the morning, which was good for routine, she said. There were also weekly work plans, which helped with setting objectives to fit in as best as possible.

Photo Kathryn Nobbs Photography

…But fur patrol launched to guarantee seals’ space

Seal partrols have been increased along the Devonport coastline after reports of pups getting injured.

After the seal appeared on Cheltenham Beach last Thursday, by Sunday, reports of a pup being bothered by dogs at Narrow Neck and another requiring attention at Thorne Bay, Takapuna, were a reminder of their vulnerability to human interaction. This sparked Auckland Council to remind people to keep their distance and dogs leashed.

“Our Animal Management team has increased patrols in the area and will advise dog owners to be cautious of the seals,” said its manager of Animal Management, Elly Waitoa. The Department of Conservation (DoC) said people should stay 20m away from seals.

“We are receiving a lot of calls about seal and seal pups at the moment…this is normal for this time of the year,” a DoC spokesperson said.

When the council responded to a call about a seal pup in distress last Sunday, one was found to be “very much alive” when it was reached at Narrow Neck around 3pm.

“The seal pup was located on the rocks and after closer inspection the officer could see minor cuts on the seal’s back. However, it could not be established how these injuries occurred,” said Waitoa. DoC was notified so that an investigation could be undertaken, she said.

That afternoon a dead pup was seen by a number of beachgoers under the cliffs at the south end of Narrow Neck, suggesting there were at least two in the area.

Council staff returned to the beach the next day – assisted by the Flagstaff with directions as to where we had seen the dead animal the previous day – but staff could not find the seal’s body, so it may have been washed out to sea.

The Flagstaff confirmed with Auckland Zoo, however, that around midday on the same day, it had uplifted an underweight seal pup from Thorne Bay, Takapuna. This was now recovering at the zoo’s vet hospital, the New Zealand Centre for Conservation Medicine.

This callout, separate to the council’s efforts, had involved both DoC and police to ensure people were kept at safe distances. DoC told the Flagstaff that under Alert Level 4 it was able to respond to wildlife emergencies, but not toc alls about dead animals as these were not “essential”.

The zoo spokesperson said there was no sign of a fish hook in the animal’s mouth.

DoC says it is normal for seal pups to be left on the beaches, often for hours, by their mothers when they are out feeding. “Keep your distance and keep dogs under control and well away from seals.”

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