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Elephant seal takes in sun and surf

19/Feb/2014

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Photo: Emma Reeves. Photo: Emma Reeves.

AN elephant seal has been taking advantage of the balmy weather to bask on the beach in Sorrento.

The Department of Parks and Wildlife said people who encountered seals should remember the animals are not pets or tame.

“They may have lost some of their fear of people and may tolerate your presence or even be inquisitive toward you,” the department's website said.

“They are, however, unpredictable wild animals that can be dangerous to people, particularly anyone who gets too close, moves too quickly, or somehow threatens or scares them.”

The department said people should stay at least 5m away from the marine mammals on land, and 10m in the water.

Curtin University biologists are testing a method of tracking and identifying another marine mammal, the Australian sea lion, by their whiskers.

Senior marine science and technology research fellow Chandra Salgado Kent said while the species was listed as endangered, little had been done on tracking individuals over long periods in WA as they lacked unique spots or stripes.

“Scars are often obscured by fur and change over time with molts and fur colour also changes when maturing,” Dr Salgado Kent said.

“Currently, to study them at an individual level over multiple breeding cycles, sea lions have to be marked, which means they would need to be captured and sedated to apply a mark such as a micro-chip.”

Research associate Sylvia Osterrieder said the Whisker Patrol project team wanted to discover if the animals possessed unique natural markings from their whisker patterns.

“To test this method on a large scale, we need plenty of photos of sea lions and the community to pull out their cameras when they see one in the wild and send us their snaps via the website,” Ms Osterrieder said.

“When helping us, remember to maintain a distance of 10 metres from sea lions as listed in Department of Parks and Wildlife guidelines - while they are cute and cuddly, they are wild animals.”

Photos of sea lions can be uploaded at www.whiskerpatrol.org.

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