An elephant seal has reappeared on a Mornington Peninsula beach after drawing crowds on Friday on the other side of Port Phillip Bay, where it came ashore and smashed windows at a service station.
Glenn Sharp, a regional operations manager with Victoria’s Conservation Regulator, said he had helped coax the huge seal away from danger last week, when the seal crossed roads in Point Lonsdale and appeared to be spooked by its reflection in the windows.
“I was handed an oar, and was trying to get it back to the beach and into the water,” Sharp said.
The rescue effort on Friday began with police and Parks Victoria responders blocking traffic to give the seal space to make its way back to sea. “But then it turned around and went up into the local service station,” Sharp said.
“We suspect the reason it went down the road in Port Lonsdale is because it was being harassed.”
Conservation Regulator staff reported hearing dogs bark at the seal, and Sharp said passersby were getting too close and taking selfies.
“We believe it was trying to retreat somewhere to safety.”
Once at the service station, “it likely saw its reflection in the glass, and defended itself”, he said. “That meant breaking the glass.
“Unfortunately, it did probably sustain a couple of cuts.”
The seal was ushered away by responders waving an oar with some flagging tape.
Sharp said the 500m journey took about half an hour.
“The last we saw of it on Friday, it was heading towards the heads.”
It was a “large, large animal”, Sharp said. The dark grey seal was “actually pretty quick” despite weighing at least 500kg – equivalent to a grand piano.
A seal of the same appearance popped up on Saturday at Blairgowrie, a seaside town on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. Sharp said it was not surprising that the same seal showed up inside the heads just a day later.
“It is unfortunate … because it is pretty popular there,” Sharp explained. “And it’ll still have to navigate a bit further.”
He suspected the wild animal had come ashore to undertake a seasonal moult. Once complete, it would head south to return to Antarctica.
“Even though they look large and lazy on a beach, picture a 500kg animal coming towards you quickly while you are distracted,” Sharp said.
“They do have teeth and they do bite. These things in the wild do fight over space and mates.
“There is plenty of blood and death as a result of that.”
Sharp said there had been no suggestions of welfare problems with the seal.
“The worst thing we can do is jeopardise its return home.”
He strongly discouraged anyone from feeding the seal.
“We have had scenarios … where animals did come ashore like this, and over time it started to lose weight because people started to feed it.
“The last thing we want is to make it reliant upon human interaction.”
Public have been warned to stay at least 30m from the animal, and 50m if they have a dog with them.
Sharp also confirmed this was “definitely not Henry the seal” – an elephant seal that used to frequent the area around the bay in the early 2000s.
“It was estimated around 2003 and 2005 that Henry was around five or six years old,” Sharp said. “Fifteen years later, we have a seal about the same age.”
Either Henry has been trapped in a time-freeze, “or it is definitely not Henry”.