n the morning of 18th September I spent a few hours photographing at Owhiro Bay on the South Coast of Wellington, hoping to spot the allusive Reef Heron which can occasionally be seen foraging in the rock pools at low tide.
Later that afternoon I received a text from an acquaintance at Niwa who asked if I was aware a Leopard Seal had beached in Owhiro Bay that morning and had I photographed it. I must have just missed the Leopard Seal arriving by minutes so returned to Owhiro Bay later that evening around 5.30pm.
NZ Whale Rescue and a number of other agencies including Leopard Seals NZ, DOC had been monitoring the Leopard Seal since it arrived, Leopard Seals protected under the Mammals Protection Act 1973.
From the footpath, I spotted a cordoned-off area that had been set up for the safety of the seal and public. I initially assumed the seal was resting as they sometimes visit New Zealand and the South Coast in Wellington. I was approached by a couple of members from NZ Whale-Rescue.org not long after arriving. They informed that a member of the public had witnessed the Seal struggling on the beach with a Ghost Shark or Chimaero attached to its face, and managed to dislodge the fish, which had inflicted wounds to the exterior of its head. NZ Whale Rescue requested to view the shots I had taken from the footpath with my 100-400mm, to establish the full extent of the Seal’s injuries.
It was getting dark so I rested my lens on a fence above the beach, shot at 1/500 and increased my ISO to 3000 which provided enough light to view the photos, revealing that a large barb from the Ghost fish was lodged in the roof of the Seal’s mouth and upper jaw which can be seen in the photo.
The Seal appeared lethargic and was obviously distressed by the barb, which appeared to be hindering its ability, to fully close its mouth. NZ Whale Rescue took screenshots from my camera on-site to forward to a vet, in view to assessing the full extent of the Seal’s injuries.
Leopard Seals NZ reported that the barb in the Seal’s mouth appeared to have moved a little the following day and since it was becoming more active it was determined the risk to the Seal, would be higher if someone intervened.
The Seal entered the sea of its own accord 36 hours after beaching.
In 2019 almost to the same day in September, a juvenile female Leopard Seal arrived on the same beach in Owhiro Bay to rest overnight, and more recently a Leopard Seal turned up on Lyall Beach near where I Iive.
We’re so lucky to have such special visitors on our Wellington Coastline and for agencies such as Leopard Seal NZ and NZ Whale Rescue to monitor and ensure for their safety. I always forward copies of my photos on to relevant agencies if asked and to assist with any of their research or media releases.
Vandy Pollard lives on the South Coast of Wellington where there is an abundance of coastal birds and occasionally wildlife such as Orcas, Dolphins, Penguins and Leopard Seals to photograph.