A special relationship has developed between a seal named ‘Johnson’ and Sophie Wiersema who operates Narooma Bridge Seafoods.
The male Australian fur seal has hung out at the Narooma Bridge and the waterfront shop for the past four years. He has formed a bond with Sophie coming over when she calls him by name and entertaining her customers and other passers-by.
He comes and goes like clockwork arriving in Wagonga Inlet every April and then mysteriously disappearing around October.
The bond between fish monger and seal was strengthened when Johnson showed up last year with serious injury to both his eyes – one was completely gone and the other badly scratched or bruised.
“I felt so sorry for him because he could hear my voice and when I called him he would bump into the boat,” Sophie said.
National Parks and local veterinarian Dr Alan Fridley were notified at the time and a special cream was given to Sophie for her to try get into his remaining injured eye. She was also given special permission to feed him at the time to nurse him back to health.
The experts were unsure what could have injured Johnson as he did not have any visible signs of a fight at the time, although it could have been some form of feeding accident.
Johnson has since healed up and showed up this year in good health and quite a bit bigger, leading Sophie to speculate that he is around six years old.
The relationship is not about food as Sophie does not feed him, and yet he seems to enjoy her company regardless and is there every day at the Narooma Bridge.
“All our regular customers know about Johnson and a heap of people around town know about him too,” she said. “He comes right up to me when people are here, although he doesn’t seem to like males, and sometimes when I am by myself he puts on a real show.”
Over the years, Johnson has never shown any aggression toward her and is very gentle despite his significant bulk.
Sophie would love to know where Johnson goes in the off season and tagging him would be ideal. Even where he goes at night is a bit of mystery as he is not at the bridge overnight.
Seal numbers inside the inlet have seemed to increase in recent years, with the breakwater rocks at Australia Rock formation now a popular tourism attraction in Narooma.
National Parks wildlife management officer, Geoff Ross has issued warnings about not approaching fur seals.
“Seals can move very quickly on land and will protect themselves if they feel threatened. Dogs must be kept on leads and people must not approach the seals,” he said.
“You should approach no closer than 40 metres to an adult seal when the animal is on land and not approach closer than 10 metres when in the water. When seal pups are present you should stay at least 80 metres away at all times, where possible, to avoid conflict with seal mums.”
If you are concerned about any particular seal or any marine mammal please call NPWS in Narooma on 4476 0800.
Fur seal populations are gradually recovering from hunting that began in the 1800’s for their oil, meat and skins. More than 200,000 animals were hunted before they became protected in 1974 under the National Parks and Wildlife Act.
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