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Caring for Wildlife

Seal Watching Guidelines

Australian Fur Seals

Australian Fur seals

Follow these guidelines and your visit will be safe and enjoyable - both for the seals and for you.

Approach quietly

Seals are sensitive - fast boats, noisy engines, clattering sails and rattling anchor chains frighten them, making them flee into the water. At breeding colonies, disturbance may cause stampedes, where pups are crushed or forced off the colony. Lower sail or reduce speed to under 10 knots within 200 metres, and 5 knots within 100 metres. Seals have an acute sense of smell, so approach from downwind slowly and quietly, and the seals may swim out to investigate you.

Keep your distance

Boats shouldn't moor or pass closer than 100 metres to a seal colony in November- December, when pups are born; or closer than 50 metres at any other time of year. Swimming with seals can be dangerous, because where there are seals, there are sharks. Using a glass- bottomed boat or perspex dive tube is much safer.

Look, don't touch.

Never land at a seal colony. Landing causes major disturbance - when seals stampede, pups are at risk of injury, drowning or abandonment. As well, seals may carry disease, and they can bite. Don't throw food or discard rubbish - animals in the wild should not be fed, and plastics can kill through accidental swallowing or entanglement.

What do I do if I find a seal on the beach ?

It is important to remember that seals are wild animals and although they may conjure up emotions similar to those evoked by cats and dogs and other fluffy creatures they are not to be patted. Do not poke and prod!

Seals haul out for a number of reasons and often do so simply to rest and sleep. Sometimes a seal may be exhausted after swimming for hundreds or thousands of kilometers, such as those from Antarctica or the sub-antarctic which can be seen here in Tasmania (southern elephant seal, leopard seal, and crab-eater seal). Respect the seal and let it rest without needless human disturbance.

The reason for not approaching the seal is simple. Unless the seal is dead there is a chance that it may bite you as you approach. Although they appear cute and sedate, they have large teeth and a long, flexible neck which they can whip around with surprising speed. They can inflict painful wounds and carry a number of diseases that may include tuberculosis.

People should keep at least 30 m away from any resting seal. Dogs should be on a lead at all times around seals and never be allowed nearer than 100m. Keep a greater distance if a seal appears unsettled. Unlike whales and dolphins, seals do not need to be kept wet when on a beach. 

Rare or sick seals

If you find a seal and it doesn't have external ears it's a Phocid seal, rare to our waters, from the Antarctic or the sub-antarctic. Please call the Biodiversity Conservation Branch, Department of Primary Industries and Water (Phone: 0427 942 537 as soon as possible.

Sometimes a seal may haul out because it is sick or injured. Determining the state of health should only be attempted by suitably qualified persons at the Biodiversity Conservation Branch, Department of Primary Industries and Water or a vet.

Please contact the Biodiversity Conservation Branch with any sightings of seals on our coast, whether healthy or possible sick animals. A course of action is only to be followed upon discussion with Biodiversity Conservation Biologists.

Where to Observe Seals

The following map shows the locations of haul-outs, breeding sites and viewing sites for Australian fur seals in Tasmanian waters.

Seal viewing locations