A LARGE, hungry seal has spent the last few weeks terrorising anglers and boat users at Corinella jetty, resulting in a warning from authorities to stop feeding the animal and to keep a safe distance.
The male Australian Fur Seal maintains a constant presence around the pier, focusing its attention around the boat ramp and fish cleaning station.
But all of the feeding of fish scraps appears to have created a monster, with The Sentinel-Times receiving several reports of aggression from the mammal.
Coronet Bay fisherman Malcolm Bruce said the seal “had a go” at him as he brought his boat ashore on the night of Friday, January 10.
“I was climbing up the jetty holding the rope to the boat when I heard it hissing at me in the dark,” Malcolm said.
“I looked around and saw it was maybe two feet away from me, its head out of the water near the edge of the jetty.
“I dropped the rope and backed off; it was definitely acting aggressively.”
Utilising the ramp at Corinella several times a week, Malcolm blames members of the public for turning the seal from an occasional visitor into a constant nuisance.
“I’ve seen lots of idiots pull in with their boat holding fish up for it,” he said.
“You’ve got to be careful when you’re walking in the water to get to your boat trailer because it hangs around.
“I spoke to one lady who said she opened the door of her car near the ramp and it popped up and started hissing at her.”
Malcolm says he fears for the safety of both the seal and boaters.
“Someone is going to kill or be killed by it eventually,” he said.
“It needs to be removed from the area.
“Someone could end up shooting or poisoning it, and you don’t want that.
“It’s not the seal’s fault; it’s only doing what comes naturally.
“It’s the fault of the idiots feeding it.”
Malcolm says he has seen friendlier seals swimming around the edge of the jetty in past summers, but this latest one appears to have made the Corinella foreshore its territory.
“I’ve seen it come ashore and sleep alongside the brick wall next to the ramp master’s shack,” he said.
“And that’s just as dangerous as when he is in the water.
“A kid could jump over the wall and surprise it in the bushes.”
Fourteen year-old Corinella resident Bryce Charles, who enjoys swimming around the jetty on an almost-daily basis, said he has seen the seal attack two people in the last fortnight.
“One lady was pointing at it with her daughter and when she picked her kid up and turned around it bit her on the back of the leg,” Bryce said.
“And I saw it bite someone’s shoe as they were getting out of the boat.
“They were scared.
“It follows almost every boat and sometimes it gets in the way of boats by lying in the middle of the ramp.”
To cool off, Bryce enjoys jetty-jumping with his mates, but always makes sure to check the whereabouts of the seal before he leaps.
‘Don’t approach seal’
Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI) wildlife manager Charlie Franken said seals that get used to human interaction can becoming aggressive.
“They are wild, fast and strong animals and can inflict savage wounds on people and dogs,” Mr Franken said.
“The Australian Fur seal is internationally recognised as a significant species, protected under the Wildlife Act 1975, making it illegal to kill, injure or harass this animal.
“Throughout the year, seals can be found resting on beaches anywhere along the Victorian coast, where they’re at home on beaches, rocks or man-made structures.
“It’s not uncommon for injured or tired seals to come ashore, or to calmer waters to rest and recover, eventually returning to deeper water.
“Problems occur when seals are taught to take advantage of fish given to them by humans, and begin to recognise people as a provider of food.”
Feeding the seal, Mr Franken said, would only encourage the animal to stay in the area, and he warned it could even learn new tricks.
“It could become skilled at removing fish from fishing lines,” he said.
“Do not approach the seal, do not feed it with anything, including fish remains and stay at least 30 metres away from it.
“Keep dogs on a leash and away from the area and do not fish anywhere near it.
“It will eventually move on, but only if people leave it alone and don’t encourage it to stay by feeding it.”
Mr Franken said it is an offence to feed, approach or harass marine animals and serious penalties can apply.
Anyone witnessing an incident of harassment should contact the DEPI customer service centre on 136 186.