Follow these guidelines and your visit will be safe and enjoyable - both for the seals and for you.
Seals are sensitive - fast boats, noisy engines, clattering sails and rattling anchor chains frighten them, making them flee into the water. At breeding colonies, disturbance may cause stampedes, where pups are crushed or forced off the colony. Lower sail or reduce speed to under 10 knots within 200 metres, and 5 knots within 100 metres. Seals have an acute sense of smell, so approach from downwind slowly and quietly, and the seals may swim out to investigate you.
Keep your distance
Boats shouldn't moor or pass closer than 100 metres to a seal colony in November-December, when pups are born; or closer than 50 metres at any other time of year. Swimming with seals can be dangerous, because where there are seals, there are sharks.
Look, don't touch
Never land at a seal colony. Landing causes major disturbance - when seals stampede, pups are at risk of injury, drowning or abandonment. As well, seals may carry disease, and they can bite. Don't throw food or discard rubbish - animals in the wild should not be fed, and plastics can kill through accidental swallowing or entanglement.
What do I do if I find a seal on the beach?
It is important to remember that seals are wild animals and although they may conjure up emotions similar to those evoked by cats and dogs and other fluffy creatures, they are not to be patted. Do not poke and prod!
Seals haul out for a number of reasons and often do so simply to rest and sleep. Sometimes a seal may be exhausted after swimming for hundreds or thousands of kilometres, such as those from Antarctica or the sub-Antarctic which can be seen here in Tasmania (southern elephant seal
). Respect the seal and let it rest without needless human disturbance.
Australian fur seals
The reason for not approaching the seal is simple. Unless the seal is dead there is a chance that it may bite you as you approach. Although they appear cute and sedate, they have large teeth and a long, flexible neck which they can whip around with surprising speed. They can inflict painful wounds and carry a number of diseases that may include tuberculosis.
Remember, if you find a seal and it doesn't have external ears it's a Phocid seal, rare to our waters, from the Antarctic or the sub-Antarctic. Please call us as soon as possible.
Sometimes a seal may haul out because it is sick or injured. Determining the state of health should only be attempted by suitably qualified persons at the Marine Conservation Program, Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (Phone: 0427 942 537) or a vet.
Please contact the Marine Conservation Program with any sightings of seals on our coast, whether healthy or possible sick animals. A course of action is only to be followed upon discussion with Marine Conservation Biologists.
Where to Observe Seals
This map illustrates known locations of haul-outs, breeding sites and viewing sites for Australian fur seals in Tasmanian waters. If you are visiting a haul-out colony most of the animals you will observe are adult and subadult males with perhaps the smallest animals with female colouring likely to be juvenile males.
Management of Seals Onshore in Tasmania