About half an hours drive north of Kaikoura is a large seal colony. They come out of the violent surf on to the rocks and beach to rest, sleep and have their seal pups. Just around the corner is a small freshwater creek that comes out to the sea, and about 5 min walk in is a lovely waterfall falling into a decent sized pond before flowing away.
Somehow the seal pups found this freshwater oasis, and in season make their way up the rocky creek bed to frolic and play in the deeper pools, keeping safe while mum is out to sea fishing. This recently became a bit of a tourist hotspot due to the attraction of adorable seal pups, and the fact it was 5 min walk away off a main highway, with lots of parking handy to allow people to stop.
In the high season, the Department of Conservation (or DoC as we know them here in NZ) have tour guides to educate the tourists and protect the pups (for some reason people forget they are wild animals and try and pat them, scaring the small creatures and potentially earning themselves a nasty bite).
I have a good friend who lives in Kaikoura that I don’t visit often enough, so I went up this weekend. We took a chance on a drive up, it was late in the season but we were lucky and there was one pup at the top of the track. I sat down on the side of the path, careful not to crowd it, and after a couple of minutes checking us out, he made his way around a tree trunk, to a rock a bit closer to us, and POSED very beautifully.
I took several shots with my 17-55mm 2.8 lens on. I cranked the ISO up to 400 and that was enough to counteract the gloom from the trees to allow me to get the above images without flash.
It was interesting to note of the several photographers who were there, I was the only one who sat down and got at eye level with the pup. Not sure if it was a coincidence, but he moved towards us after I had sat down. I was also the only photographer not to use flash, and there were cameras there that were capable of shooting to the conditions should the appropriate lens be available and the photographer know what they were doing.
While it is a delight to have this opportunity to see such a delighful creature in the wild, and close up, the sheer volume of people visiting the waterfall, standing looming at these small creatures, shooting bright lights at them repeatedly must be an unpleasant experience. I am not sure what can be done to counteract this behaviour, short of having a photographer onsite to take the shots and email them to people in a more controlled manner.
I hope that this continues to be a positive experience for all creatures involved, that great photos are taken, and no seals are harmed in the process. I have noted that in wild animal vs ‘human doing a stupid thing’, too often the animal somehow gets the blame for protecting itself or defending its territory from someone being an idiot for whatever reason.
Please always respect a wild animals right to not be molested, poked prodded or otherwise interfered with, they share our planet too!