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‘Rescuing’ sick seals may put them at risk

5 August 2005

‘Rescuing’ sick seals may put them at risk

“Rescuing” seals that come up onto Wellington beaches could harm both animal and rescuer, says the Department of Conservation.

It is normal for seals to come ashore at this time of year and it was best to leave them alone and let them rest until they are ready to go back to sea. But some well meaning people are putting themselves and seals at risk by trying to “rescue” them, mistakenly believing that their naturally weepy eyes and wet noses are signs of illness.

Others are urging DOC to seek treatment for sick and injured seals.

DOC Wellington Conservancy marine biologist Nadine Gibbs said if a seal was badly injured or in a dangerous situation, DOC staff would tend to it. But the department has a policy of non-intervention.

“Taking seals to a vet clinic or transporting them can expose the seals to diseases carried by dogs and humans to which they may have no natural resistance. These infections could be carried back to the rookery and cause havoc in the wild population.”

“Rehabilitation of seals is also a long and costly process. They are numerous and increasing and not under threat of decline. Such species generally do not have significant money spent on them for individual animal welfare reasons alone.”

Ms Gibbs said seals can survive quite major injuries if they are in good condition.

“Injuries such as cut or torn flippers, or minor gashes are not cause for concern. Unnecessary disturbance and a close approach can do more harm than good.

“There will be some seal casualties, nature being selective in survival of the fittest, but this means that the strong animals survive and will produce healthy offspring.

“Even though people might think they are doing the right thing, we strongly advise them not to come in contact with seals, no matter how injured they look,” Ms Gibbs said.

If there are signs of serious injury or a seal is in a high public use area, then people should ring the nearest DOC office, or call 0800 DOC HOT line (0800 36 24 68) 24 hour conservation emergency helpline.

“We will ensure the seal is managed in the most appropriate way, otherwise it is best for all concerned to leave them alone,” Ms Gibbs said.

As well as a nasty bite, seals carry a number of diseases such as salmonella, tuberculosis and hepatitis that are all transferable to humans and dogs.

“Do not attempt to move, or assist the animal yourself. Even if it is sick or injured it may still be capable of inflicting serious injury,” Ms Gibbs said.

Only if people see a seal in obvious distress should they should approach it, slowly and making sure they do not cut off its escape route to the sea. They should try to avoid making eye contact with it; keep a safe distance away (at least 5 metres), and look for obvious signs of ill health or distress such as large open wounds, or strapping or ropes embedded in the fur around the neck.

They should then contact their nearest DOC office via the 0800 HOTLINE. When taking a call about a sick, injured or distressed seal, DOC will need the following information:

- Where is the seal and how can they get to it?

- What species of seal is it (or a description of what it looks like)?

- What size is it?

- What is wrong with it?

- What is the state of the tide?

- What are the local weather and sea conditions?

ENDS

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