APOLLO BAY’S visiting fur seals have bitten three people at the harbour.
The Department of Sustainability and Environment are warning beach users to stay away from Australian fur seals at the Apollo Bay boat ramp.
The Colac Herald printed a photo of a relaxed fur seal near the harbour’s fish cleaning table last month but there are now two seals competing for fish scraps.
DSE compliance officer Stan Williams said one of the seals had “become more aggressive in pursuing fish scraps with at least three people reported as having suffered bites recently”.
“It’s unusual for seals to bite, but this behaviour acts as a reminder for people to be aware that seals are wild animals and people should keep their distance,” Mr Williams said.
“When seals are fed, they quickly become dependent and lose their fear of humans.
“If they feel threatened by people who get too close they can be aggressive and can move very quickly.”
Mr Williams said seals, which weighed up to 360 kilograms, had begged for fish offal at fish cleaning stations at sites along the coast.
“Seals learn quickly and once they start to help themselves, they are more likely to bite if approached.
“Studies have shown that providing food to any wildlife invariably changes their behaviour with disastrous results for the animals, birds or reptiles that receive this food.”
Wildlife regulations say people must stay at least 30 metres away from a seal on land and five metres away from a seal on a structure such as a jetty or pier.
“It’s also important for dog owners to keep their dogs 50 metres from a seal on land unless the dog is on a leash and it is necessary to pass by the seal,” Mr Williams said.
“We want people to take care whenever they come into contact with wild animals, particularly with large and potentially aggressive creatures like Australian fur seals.
“It is illegal to feed or harass marine mammals in Victoria, including fur seals, and people can be fined if they are found doing this.”
People who go too close or feed a seal could face fines of up to $2440.
Mr Williams said the DSE would consider relocating aggressive seals.
Apollo Bay is known for its neighbouring seal population at Marengo’s rocky marine sanctuary.