Victorian Government zoologists have confirmed a blond seal currently at Anglesea Beach is a Crab-eater Seal (Lobodon carcinophagus), which are rare vagrants to Victorian waters.
Data kept by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), show the lone mammal – a native of Antarctica – is only the 11th individual Crab-eater Seal recorded in Victoria since records began in 1856.
The Crab-eater Seal – known as friendly and approachable to humans during encounters in the wild - lives exclusively in the pack ice of Antarctica and has a distinct snout, slender body and unique teeth.
DELWP earlier this week received reports of the seal at beaches close to Powlett River near Phillip Island on 11 January; Flinders at Western Port on 15 January; and Anglesea on Monday.
Zoologists identified the mammal as a Crab-eater Seal but due to the extremely rare nature of confirmed sightings in this country, it was unclear what drove the animal to swim so far north from its icy home, particularly to Australia in mid-summer.
Similar in appearance to Crab-eater Seals are Leopard Seals. Leopards are larger, with a distinctive head profile and longer fore flippers. Both species are members of the Family Phocidae or ‘true’ seals, as distinct from the common seal species in southern Australian waters like the Australian Fur Seal which is a member of the Otaridae or ‘eared’ seals. The most obvious difference between the two families is the structure of the hind flippers which are not used in propulsion on land in the ‘true’ seals.
DELWP’s Victorian Biodiversity Atlas (VBA) has 14 accepted records of Crab-eater Seals since 1856, with at least five of those thought to be a multiple sighting of the same animal. The VBA has 179 accepted records of the Leopard Seal, the last in 2010 at Wilsons Promontory.
It is an offence to be within 30m of marine wildlife including a seal; and it’s also an offence to feed, offer food or touch a seal without authorisation. Dogs are required to be kept at least 50m away.
Quotes attributable to Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water Lisa Neville
“The last time a Crab-eater Seal was seen in Victoria was at Lake Tyres Beach in 1999, with the previous nine sightings dating back more than 150 years at the Lakes Entrance area, Port Campbell, Warrnambool, Portland and Port Phillip Bay.“
“So it’s a rare privilege indeed to see this Antarctic species on our shores this month, let alone one this cute and accessible. It’s understandable that people at Angelsea are excited to be near the animal but we do ask them to keep the lawful and safe distance of 30 metres from it.”
“Let’s hope the seal does not become distressed or disoriented and is able to safely make its way to Antarctica.”
Reviewed 19 August 2020