Last Saturday morning I was casually browsing Facebook when I saw someone had seen a Crabeater Seal down on the Mornington Peninsula! This is a very rare seal on mainland Australia with records generally every 10 years or so – it normally occurs on the pack ice around Antarctica so was a long way from home! They are considered likely the most numerous pinniped in the world and despite the name mostly feed on krill which they sieve through amazing teeth which function a bit like whale baleen. I had previously tried and failed to twitch one in 2016 – only seeing the slide mark where we had just missed it. The poster was cryptic about where it was but looking at their pictures it would seem it had to be somewhere between Dromana and Rosebud so I jumped in the car and went for a drive. I popped out in Dromana and scanned down the coastline and could see orange flagging tape towards McCrae – BINGO!
I pulled up a few hundred metres up the beach and with a quick scan of the binoculars and could see a seal in the water near the orange fence. Walking up I could see some ranger, volunteers and a group of interested public and of course the Crabeater Seal! At first glance the seal seemed in decent condition but after watching it for a while it was clear it was listless and probably not very well. It had been very warm over the proceeding few days which would have been very uncomfortable for an animal used to an environment which rarely hit above freezing. Gus McNab soon turned up and we sat and watched the animal for a few hours taking photos from a distance. Simone brought Lucas down – he now has Leopard, Elephant and Crabeater seal on his Aussie pinniped list – pretty good. The seal didn’t do much – blowing bubbles and generally resting. Lots of people came for a look and asked many questions.
The seal was outside the McCrae yacht club and it was somewhat amusing when one of the members came over and asked the ranger if the seal could be moved on – I don’t know if he expected her to pick it up and carry it down the beach. After about 4 hours the seal had a burst of energy and swam about 10 meters further down the beach and then lay there looking particularly poorly. It was no surprise that about a half hour after I left I heard that the seal had died. The prognosis for an animal used to freezing temperatures this far from home in warm weather was never going to be good. As the volunteer I first met there said – I had always wanted to see a Crabeater Seal but never wanted to in a situation like this.