NZ Local News

Woman rescues seal pup from Tasman district highway ‘like some lunatic from a film’

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A slippery seal rescued from a highway near Appleby, Tasman district. Photo / RNZ


A Tasman woman says she did not think twice about rescuing a tiny seal pup when she saw it moving across a busy highway in peak traffic.

Rachel Yerbury-Wilson spotted the baby seal on State Highway 60 near Appleby while driving to her work in Nelson on Wednesday, shortly before 8am.

At first she thought it was a dog that had been hit by a car.

“There’s this black thing kind of waddling across the road ,and I thought ‘oh no, they’ve hit a dog’. And the way it was moving, I thought ‘oh no, the back legs have been hit’.

Dozens of cars ignored the creature, and as Yerbury-Wilson got closer she realised it was not an injured dog at all.

“I was like, ‘what the hell is a seal doing on the main road’?”

Rachel Yerbury-Wilson and a friend rescued a seal pup from a highway near Appleby in the Tasman district. Photo / RNZ
Rachel Yerbury-Wilson and a friend rescued a seal pup from a highway near Appleby in the Tasman district. Photo / RNZ

She pulled over and was able to scoop it up in a recycling bin, using her foot.

“So I stopped the traffic, and literally like some lunatic from a film with like, both hands, crossing the main highway. People are going, ‘What on Earth is this crazy lady doing?’ And it was only half a metre from where the cars are.”

Department of Conservation advice for people who come across a seal is not to handle it and call its emergency hotline. It says it takes a hands-off approach to seals, capable and resilient animals who usually find their way home.

“I just thought, well, ‘this creature is in immediate danger’. It’s not as if it was on a side road or anywhere else I would have thought ‘don’t touch it’. But I think on the main highway where the traffic is 80km/h, if not more, there was no way,” Yerbury-Wilson said.

Once in the back of her car, another woman pulled over to give her a hand — just as well, because then the seal escaped and clambered over the seats and up onto the dashboard.

The other woman, a volunteer for the SPCA, scooped the seal up in some blankets, put it back in the recycling bin and into her van — and the “little Houdini” escaped again.

Eventually, they secured the seal with a dog collar, and a DoC staff member arrived that morning to release it back into the sea — but not before the police showed up to investigate reports of a “dirty sheep” on the highway.

“A feel-good story I suppose, for the beginning of the year,” Yerbury-Wilson said.

She said faced with an unlikely repeat of the scenario, she would do it again.


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