Elephant seal Woodbridge March 2022
A familiar juvenile Southern elephant seal has reappeared on Tasmanian shores, this time in Woodbridge.
Wildlife biologists from the Marine Conservation Program (MCP) have identified the seal as the same male pup born and successfully weaned on the Tasman Peninsula in October 2020.
The seal was tagged when it was born and has been a regular visitor to the state’s south-eastern coastline over the past 17 months.
It’s also not the seal’s first visit to this particular Woodbridge playground, where locals fondly refer to him as ‘Neil the seal’.
Although the seal appears to have chosen Woodbridge as a regular haul-out spot, MCP staff have now relocated him to a more secluded location on Tasmania’s east coast after he was found several times wandering on the road.
The seal has been fitted with a tracking device to help quickly identify if he turns up in another challenging location and to learn more about this particular seal’s behaviour.
MCP wildlife biologist Sam Thalmann said about 15 Southern elephant seals are recorded hauling out on Tasmanian beaches to rest and moult each year.
“This particular seal has put on a significant amount of weight since he was last resighted in Woodbridge in July last year. This indicates that he has been very successful in finding suitable prey, likely some species of deep-sea squid,” Mr Thalmann said.
Elephant seal pup sighting at Snug Bay 2021 - 8 months old
“Pups on average weigh in at 40kg at birth and wean approximately 23 days later at around 120 to 130kg. Fully grown females generally weigh between 400 and 900kg. Males can grow up to four times heavier than the females, with some males topping the scales at as much as 4 tonnes.
“While this seal still has a way to go before reaching his full adult size, it is fascinating to imagine where he has gone amongst all of the offshore waters surrounding Tasmania to find the prey that he has, in order to gain the weight that he has.”
MCP monitors seal populations and their habitat use in Tasmania to aid their recovery from past threats and their adaptation to emerging impacts such as climate change.
Southern elephant seals breed in large harems on sub-Antarctic islands, the closest being Macquarie Island, 1,500km south of Hobart. However, Tasmania once had a thriving population of up 15,000 Southern elephant seals breeding on King Island, prior to sealing activities in the early 1800s.
From 1980 to today there are seven records of Southern elephant seals pupping in Tasmania, including at Strahan, Dover, Bruny Island, Marion Bay and Sea Elephant Bay on King Island. Three of these have been weaned successfully.
While seals may appear to be calm and relaxed when hauled out, members of the public are reminded to keep their distance, keep dogs on a lead and away from the seal, and leave the seal to rest.
Seals hauling out on Tasmanian beaches is normal behaviour and they can remain on shore indefinitely. Seals will return to the water when ready.
Anyone with concerns about the seal can call the Marine Conservation Program hotline on 0427 WHALES (0427 942 537).
Elephant seal pup with mother Tasman Peninsula - one day old