Seal back in Ballina, but stay back if you value limbs
LEO the juvenile Antarctic leopard seal has made his second Ballina appearance in two days, basking in the sun on Shelly Beach.
The unusual tourist attracted spectators as well as officers from Ballina Shire Council, NSW Parks and Wildlife and local police who made sure the leopard seal was given a wide berth by onlookers.
Despite his cute and cuddly appearance, Southern Cross University director of marine ecology research centre Professor Peter Harrison warned leopard seals were dangerous predators and had been known to attack people.
"We do know that they will attack people and therefore people should be very cautious and stay considerable distance away," said Prof Harrison.
"They have massive canine teeth and a very big jaw opening so that if somebody got to close and got bitten by one, it would make a mess of their hand."
Prof Harrison said there were records of a British researcher who was snorkelling in Antarctica and was drowned by a leopard seal.
"The leopard seal is a key predator that, apart from the killer whale, is the next top predator in Antarctic waters and so they can be very aggressive," he said.
Despite their appearance, Prof Harrison said leopard seals were surprisingly quick on soft sand and rocks.
What brought the cold-water southerner to our sub-tropical beaches remains a bit of a mystery.
Prof Harrison said the leopard seal's main habitat is in and around Antarctica, thousands of miles south of Australia.
"If it's healthy, the sensible thing to do is to leave it alone and it will make its way back down south," he said.