Narooma is one of the most beautiful marine wildlife hotspots in New South Wales, and a gateway to the stunning Montague Island. Wander down to the boat ramp and see enormous Bull Rays in their full majestic glory hoovering the bay floor. It’s an extremely popular spot for fishermen, and we saw huge hauls of Flathead (a extremely popular “Fish and Chips” fish, commonly fished off these waters) and Kingfish.
The Seals at Montague, in their element, in the wild and on their terms (Photo Lee Hankinson)
But in Narooma, there is something extremely exciting for land dwelling tourists too. Seals. Head down to the break water and see the “Sea Puppies” laying in the sun lazily, barking at each other or snoozing in the water. There are two species, Australian Fur Seals and or New Zealand Fur Seals. They are absolutely adorable from a distance, and the more you watch, the more hilarious you’ll find their absent minded slopping in the water. Viewing them as a diver on Montague is even more fascinating, as you see them dart around blowing bubbles, in their absolute element.
They are cute, funny and intriguing, which makes remembering these are wild animals perhaps a bit hard, especially for those locals that see these animals every fishing trip, and the holiday makers desperate to see them up close. And on a recent visit to Narooma, this point was highlighted in a stark way for myself and Lee Hankinson.
We visited just after Christmas this year (2018), and we were really shocked to see Fishermen feeding, by hand, Seals that were sitting at the feet on the fishermen at the fish gutting tables. The Fishermen were happy to play up to this, and to feed the Seals, to the watching eyes of piles of tourists.
This alone is a shame to see, as these are wild animals, who if are fed by hand too often loose their ability to feed themselves. But it also poses a threat to both the humans and the Seals. In the instance we were there, we saw Fishermen feeding the Seals and foreign tourists reaching out to touch them!!
We know its tempting to want to see what they feel like, but in doing so you pose a risk to yourself- and to the Seals. They are wild animals- WITH TEETH. They are looking for food, and the likelihood is, that if you reach out to touch a wild animal, it will be scared, or think you've got fish and will bite.
This is not fun for you, and not fun for the Seals, who once are habituated to coming to humans for food- can potentially continue this behaviour. This wont be good news for the Seals long term. If somebody does get bitten, this could potentially force Fisheries to act, and remove or cull the seals from the area.
We hope that Fisheries will become aware of this situation, and act to protect the Seals from mismanagement quickly. It would be so great to see Volunteers standing at the boat ramps during pivotal busy seasons, giving tourists talks about this amazing animals, whilst promoting good practices to keep us all safe.
But in the meantime it would be great to see everyone working together to prevent a problem. As with ALL wildlife- it is best to keep a good distance from the Seals both at Narooma, and other spots around the world with beautiful wildlife. Feeding Seals, even though you might think is helping them, puts them at a disadvantage long term. Do not try and touch the Seals and leave them be when resting of the rocks.
The seals themselves are a huge economic draw, and when we work together, it benefits us all.