Seal attack on elderly man unprovoked - witnesses

An elderly man is in a stable condition in Taranaki Hospital after he was attacked by a seal on a public walkway in New Plymouth.

The 85-year-old suffered serious leg injuries when the seal lunged at him on the coastal walkway near Belt Road this morning.

A trail of blood stains the pavement where the attack took place during the man's morning walk.

It's common to see seals along the rocky shoreline, but this fur seal climbed over the boulders and onto the busy walkway.

"The gentleman's gone past and the seal's lunged out at the gentleman which tends to happen when they are males and they can be very aggressive," says Department of Conservation New Plymouth ranger Darryn Ratana.

The seal – weighing roughly 150kg – bit the man in the lower leg. Witnesses say the man did nothing to provoke the seal.

Emergency services treated the man on the walkway near the Belt Road Motor Camp.

"There was a lot of blood on the pathway, but when they were putting him in the ambulance, he was awake, quite alert and he was managing to talk to somebody," says Belt Road Motor Camp manager Jacqueline Liebenberg.

Armed police kept an eye on the seal before DOC staff shooed it back into the sea with a broomstick, however DOC says the public shouldn't try that themselves.

"People should avoid these mammals as much as they can, give them a wide berth, they can be quite dangerous and their bites can be particularly nasty," says Mr Ratana.

The New Plymouth District Council says it's the first seal attack on the walkway, but admits more signage is needed to warn passers-by.

"Fencing is also something we won't rule out at this stage – we'll meet with DOC next week and review all our practical options," says New Plymouth District Council's manager of parks Mark Bruhn.

DOC rangers are monitoring the seal and may re-locate it, but if that doesn't work it may have to be put down.

Stay safe around seals

DOC recommends the following to ensure your safety around seals:

  • Always stay at least 10m away.
  • Do not disturb seals. Don't make loud noises or throw objects near them.
  • Keep dogs and children under control around seals.
  • Never attempt to handle seals as they can be aggressive.
  • Do not drive vehicles any closer than 50m from seals.
  • Flies are often attracted to the natural secretions around the eyes of seals. This does not mean the seal is sick and is not a cause for concern.
  • It is natural for mothers to leave their pups alone while they return to sea to forage. Please do not disturb or move solitary pups.
  • If you are concerned about the safety of a seal, please contact the Department of Conservation immediately on 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468).

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