There is always surprises in our ever changing environment at the Wairau Lagoon. Recently an young leopard seal has taken the Wairau as its home. My daughter Holly was the first to see it. “Hey dad, that log is a seal!”
The leopard seal (Hydrurga leptonyx) is built for speed. They are easily identified by their long slim body, comparatively large fore-flippers. They grow up to three metres in length and can weight 300kg.
Adult leopard seals are normally found along the edge of the Antarctic pack ice but in winter, young animals move throughout the southern ocean visiting New Zealand. A population estimate in 1977 put the total number at 222,000.
They are the only seals known to regularly hunt and kill warm-blooded prey, including other seals. Large adults have attacked humans so they demand considerable respect.
In an effort to protect our visitor from human harm I contacted Dr Krista Hupman of the Department of Conservation in Auckland who specializes in marine mammal protection and who has been studying a very similar situation in the Westhaven marina, Auckland for the last 18 months. On her suggestion we are proposing signage to raise public awareness of the leopard seal and how it should be treated if encountered and the laws around it’s marine mammal protection status. We have contacted the local Department of Conservation and Rangitane to make them aware of this rarity in their area of stewardship.