A seal with a penchant for playing with traffic cones and lying in the sun is attracting attention at a beach near Hobart — some of it unwelcome.
- Neil has become an internet sensation after his visits to a beach near Hobart
- There are concerns curious humans are getting too close to the animal
- Tasmania’s Marine Conservation Program is regularly checking in on Neil and advises people to stay at least 20 meters away
The elephant seal, dubbed Neil, has been at the beach and surrounding residential area for about a month as part of his normal moulting process, shedding his fur and outer layer of skin.
The nearly two-year-old has received growing internet fame in that time, with a social media account sharing photos and videos.
Many show him playing with traffic cones placed to help protect him from passing cars.
The account posted on Tuesday, urging people not to interfere with the seal.
“Over the past few days, I have had many people email through to share a few isolated and sad stories of Neil being poked, prodded and having things thrown at him,” author Kirsty said.
“This is not in the spirit of looking out for our wildlife, nor is it in the spirit of this page.
“I know those who follow this page are those who truly care about Neil and I hope we can come together and make sure that he’s safe by standing up to those who do the wrong thing.”
The local community has been trying to help protect Neil, erecting signage and tape telling people to keep a distance of at least 10 meters away.
Marianne Goncalves, who lives in a nearby suburb, took her son to see Neil.
“I was close by and decided to take the little one to see the seal,” she said.
“I’ve been here for half an hour and there were a couple of families and a lot of people taking pictures.
“In general people are respecting and keeping their distance, he’s very cute.”
Neil has even been trying to get his flippers into a photo shoot.
Hobart photographer Sam Shelley has been working on a shoot for the surf club where Neil is hauled out.
“The seal has been following us around, I’ve been down in the sand taking photos and he’s been coming towards us, trying to check us out,” he said.
“Probably thinks I’m a seal, it’s been a bit of fun.”
Mr Shelley has seen a lot of people coming to see Neil.
“[Some] people are probably getting a bit too close and learning the hard way that the seal doesn’t like it,” he said.
“I saw some people trying to touch the seal and the seal sort of jumped up and had a go at them; they learned pretty quickly that that’s not what you do.”
The Marine Conservation Program was regularly monitoring the seal to check on its health and the safety of both the seal and the public.
It recommended keeping a distance of 20 meters away and said interfering with wildlife was an offence.
Wildlife biologist Kris Carlyon said Neil had finished moulting and there was nothing preventing him from returning to the sea.
Biologists are hopeful he will soon return to the ocean to feed.
“It is important people don’t get too close to the seal or harass him,” Dr Carlyon said.
“While elephant seals are not likely to attack if unprovoked and can appear calm and relaxed, he is still a large, wild animal.”
The Marine Conservation Program said anyone with concerns about the seal should phone the Marine Mammal Hotline 0427 WHALES (0427 942 537).