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Freeloader Or Playmate?

Dolphins hunting fish at North Surf Beach, Narooma, recently were joined by an inquisitive fur seal.

Rosy from Narooma, who took this photo, could not tell whether the seal was interested in the mammals or the fish.

Fur seals are certainly playful and curious as anyone who has dived or snorkelled with them at Montague Island can testify. However, they also don’t miss an opportunity for an easier feed.

In trials to make trawling exclusion and escape devices safer for fur seals and dolphins, the seals were shown to readily enter the nets to feed on the fish trapped there, often with fatal results for the seals. This was even more common in winter when presumably fish were harder to find.

Now that the government has removed marine sanctuaries at Montague Island and the seals’ fish food will become scarcer it’s hoped that the fur seals will not be more likely to be accidentally hooked or drowned in traps as they chase an easy meal. All Australian marine mammals are protected but this will not prevent them getting in the way of spearfishers aiming for a fish nor will it stop them getting entangled in discarded fishing gear.

Photo by Rosy Williams

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