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  • Writer's pictureThe Beagle

The changing sealscape of Narooma

The Beagle Editor, Over the past three years most locals would have noticed the growing number of seals that have made the Wagonga Inlet home with the numbers now around 80 and growing. Eurobodalla Tourism has long promoted the seals as an attraction to the region running underwater images of the seals across their marketing. The tourism visitation to Montague Island has always been a star attractor but with the expensive price tag a seal experience was out of reach to most family holiday budgets. As if by consideration of this the seals have come ashore to be enjoyed by site seers at no cost at all. But there is a cost of this migration. The downside to this is how the fishing in the inlet is collapsing to the point it's not worth even trying anymore. Just over the past week I have witnessed seals feasting on jewfish. Adding to this the big breeding flathead the community and the DPI have worked so hard to preserve are now also being decimated. Members of both local fishing clubs Narooma Game and Narooma Bowling Club have witnessed fish being killed by them up the back of the river over the past 6 months. Go for a walk and look under the town wharf or any boat ramp. Once you could see schools of bream and blackfish but those are now gone. It's not just the inlet in trouble as the seal numbers have exploded at the Island to the point the penguins are at an all-time low as they have been decimated by the fur seals. But trying to do something about it is a problem ,as the NPWS are more interested in watching the numbers grow. Alex Crowe of ACM reported on Jan 27th 2023 that Rob Harcourt, an honorary professor of marine ecology at Macquarie University, said fur seals were not present at all in NSW in the 60s, having been hunted in the thousands in the early years of European settlement. He is reported as saying that populations of both Australian and New Zealand fur seals had been recovering since given protection in 1924, and that Montague Island was recognised as a breeding site in 2011. It is evident that the numbers are becoming a concern in the Inlet. Their attraction to cleaning tables had the National Parks and Wildlife close the ramp at Apex Park last week thanks to seals. I know of one person that was attacked at Apex Park cleaning table resulting in a considerable leg wound.

Above: Narooma Sport and Gamefishing Club publicity officer Jan Hemmingsen photographed this seal getting a little too close for comfort at the cleaning table at Apex Park. This ended up with the presidents of both clubs meeting with Dr Holland , Max Castle of the RFA and Philip Creagh Narooma Ports committee to discuss the issue and to begin further discussions around what is a fast developing problem of sizeable proportions. Last year authorities closed the cleaning table on the town wharf and actually made people walk onto the road as a seal had made a home on the footpath. All of these closures are made without consent from the ESC so we are meeting with the new CEO to see what Council can do.

Over my thirty plus years in Narooma I have never seen them in here. Mind you I have seen whales, dolphins, sharks, and huge tuna, but never a seal. Speaking to the old boys they can remember in the late Fifties, before the bar was built, that they had a problem with seals as they were living on Hogan's hole but the town moved them on one night.

When you go to the Island the north end would normally have two to four hundred in peak breeding season but today the population has spread from the north end, and watching them today, they have made it to the jetty. I would say there are 3000 plus now The real problem with the Island is they have removed all the apex fish, like big kings and big snapper. These serve to keep the urchins in check but there numbers have dramatically fallen due to predation by the seals and now, where we use to have these incredible ribbon weed sections like they do in Tassie, their all gone now. As for the penguins the NZ Fur Seals have totally destroyed the colony.

Of concern is the mounting threat the seals pose to unwary visitors as you see them wanting to hand feed them like they do in the zoo. It's an accident waiting to happen.

David Clark Narooma Response by Tom Michelsen of Marine Drive, Narooma HERE :


NOTE: Comments were TRIALED - in the end it failed as humans will be humans and it turned into a pile of merde; only contributed to by just a handful who did little to add to the conversation of the issue at hand. Anyone who would like to contribute an opinion are encouraged to send in a Letter to the Editor where it might be considered for publication

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