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Leopard seals in Auckland

Leopard seals in Auckland

Leopard seals are a protected species, normally found along the edge of the Antarctic pack ice. An increasing number are visiting New Zealand and there are two leopard seals being seen in Auckland waters.

One of the leopard seals, a female named Owha, has become a familiar sight in Auckland. She was resident in Auckland waters for 16 months, from September 2015 to March this year.

In March, Owha relocated to the Whangarei area and has spent the last eight months moving between Whangarei and Tutukaka.

Department of Conservation (DOC) Auckland Marine Ranger Gabrielle Goodin says “Owha has returned to Auckland and has been seen at Westhaven Marina, by the harbour bridge, and other sites in the Waitemata Harbour.”

A second leopard seal, a female named Novy, is being seen in Auckland waters after spending about three months in and around Whangarei.

“We want to remind people that these seals are wild animals and will defend themselves if they feel threatened. Leopard seals can be more aggressive than New Zealand fur seals,” says Gabrielle Goodin.

“But Owha and Novy have spent time in public areas, such as marinas, in Auckland, Whangarei and Tutakaka, for many months without causing anyone any harm.”

“The key to watching these seals safely is to keep your distance, at least 20 metres away, and don’t startle them. If you do find yourself closer than 20 metres from these seals, stay calm and quietly move away.”

“Also avoid getting in between one of the seals and the water. Keep children and dogs away from the seal and under control and do not feed the seal,” says Gabrielle Goodin.

These leopard seals have names because they’re being tracked by NIWA Cetacean Biologist/Ecologist Dr Krista Hupman and the research team at Leopardseals.org:http://www.leopardseals.org/

“Owha was first seen in New Zealand waters five years ago. This is the first time, anywhere in the world, that two leopard seals have been tracked for so long,” says Krista Hupman.

“It’s not unusual for leopard seals to visit New Zealand in winter. But Owha is a phenomenon as she’s made New Zealand her home, in particular Auckland and the Whangarei area.”

“Owha has spent a lot of time at Westhaven Marina. She likes to lounge on a pontoon provided by the marina. The marina management and staff have been a great help to my research team and in managing this large guest. We’ve also developed a wonderful partnership with DOC to share sightings of these animals,” says Krista Hupman.

Dr Hupman encourages anyone who sees a leopard seal in New Zealand waters to report it via the free call hotline 0800 LEOPARD (0800 536 7273) or the Leopard Seal Sightings NZ Facebook page.

“Every sighting reported to our national database provides an exciting opportunity to learn more about these animals that are becoming more common in our waters,” says Krista Hupman.

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