Neil, a 600kg southern elephant seal, is causing concern among marine experts as his viral antics draw crowds and attention in Tasmania’s southern beach suburbs.
Neil’s Instagram account, with over 45,000 followers, documents his adventures away from the coast, often venturing into the streets of Tasmania.
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Neil first gained recognition in July 2022 during a “haul out”, a period when seals come to land to rest.
Since then, he has become a social media sensation, even making headlines internationally when he blocked a Tasmanian woman’s car, preventing her from going to work.
While Neil’s popularity continues to rise, marine experts, including Mary-Anne Lea, a professor from the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania, are expressing concerns for his welfare.
Ms Lea said that despite Neil’s adorable appearance and comical behaviour, people need to remember that these are wild animals.
“It’s OK when animals are cute and interacting in generally safe ways, but then they become bigger, and other natural behaviours kick in – along with their hormones – and you can start to have interactions that you are less fond of.”
According to the Department of Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania, southern elephant seals can pose a danger if harassed, as they can move swiftly and unpredictably.
The increasing interest in Neil, especially from platforms like TikTok, has raised concerns.
The account holder urged people to respect Neil as a wild creature and not exploit him for financial gain.
“They’re very beautiful to look at. They’re quite comical too – playing with road markers … making funny belching and farting sounds,” she said.
However, she emphasised the importance of giving Neil a respectful distance to ensure his well-being.
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