By Tui Benjamin
A vigilante handyman risked a prison sentence and £143,000 fine to save an adorable baby seal he found stranded in his field – SIX MILES from the sea.
Dad-of-four Dee Knapp was stunned to come across the eight-month-old marine mammal in his paddock in Tutapere, Southland, New Zealand, yesterday (MON) morning at 9am.
But he claims when he called New Zealand’s Department of Conservation for help, officials told him to ignore the animal and ‘let nature take its course’.
The animal lover, 45, refused and instead rescued the seal and fed him fish in his house before taking him back to the sea and releasing him later the same day.
Heart-warming footage shows the mammal – which the family named ‘Luseal’ – swimming happily away but Dee could have been slapped with a $250,000 NZD fine or even a jail term.
Dee said: “I was out checking the lambs and I saw this thing in the background.
“I thought it was probably an injured bird but as I got closer I realised it was a baby seal in the middle of my paddock. We are 10km from the beach, so it was very out of the ordinary.
“I ran back to the house, got a blanket and carried him into my porch.
“When I called the Department of Conservation they said I should just leave him alone and let nature take its course, but I thought that wasn’t right.
“I didn’t want to just leave him out in the paddock to possibly be harmed by the other animals or neighbour’s animals.
“I defrosted some fish and tried to feed him and then let him rest in my porch until it was time to take him to the beach and release him.
“It was really heart-wrenching to see him swim away but it did give me a great sense of satisfaction. We have all got to play our part in the world.
“As we were letting him go I got a phone call back from the Department of Conservation telling me I had broken marine law and could be liable to pay a $250,000 NZD fine for touching him.
“I couldn’t believe they felt that way. I think they knew my heart was in the right place.
“I told them as they wouldn’t come out to assess the situation, I took the decision to do it myself as anyone with a warm heart would – you wouldn’t just leave a baby out there.
“I don’t feel in any way special – I think anyone else who just wanted to do the right thing would have done the same.
“I can only imagine the backlash if I had let nature take its course. It was really heartless.
“If I had to do it again I don’t think I’d change a thing. I’m sleeping with a clear conscience and I have had overwhelming support. If I had listened to the officials he would have died.”
Dee believes Luseal was about eight months old because breeding season in New Zealand runs between November and January.
He has no idea how the animal managed to make its way into his paddock – which is shared by a cow and a dozen sheep – 10km from the sea and 2km from the nearest river.
But the 45-year-old said his animal friend’s reaction when he was returned to the ocean left him in no doubt the creature was destined to survive.
Dee said: “I have no idea at all how he got there – there has been flooding all up the coast of the South Island recently so maybe because the rivers were high he may have got to the mouth of the river and got disorientated.
“I think he had travelled for a good couple of days and was exhausted by the time I found him. It was quite concerning the little tyke was not with his mum.
“As soon as we got to the ocean he picked up – he was making these noises and sticking his nose in the air sniffing around, he wanted to get out.
“As he swam off he put his flipper up, it seems like it was either a ‘thanks very much for everything’ or a ‘see you later fellas, I’m out of here’.”
Under New Zealand’s Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978 it is an offence to disturb, harass, harm, injure or kill a seal and anyone who does so risks a fine of up to $250,000 or a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment.
Advice on the New Zealand Department of Conservation website states: “It is an offence under the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978 (MMPA) to disturb, harass, harm, injure or kill a seal.
“A dog owner whose dog attacks a seal could face prosecution.
“Anyone charged under the MMPA with harassing, disturbing, injuring or killing a seal faces a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment or a fine to a maximum of $250,000.
“Seals are wild animals and will defend themselves if they feel threatened. Adult seals can move surprisingly quickly on land.
“While they can look harmless, seals can inflict serious injuries to dogs or people and can carry infectious diseases.
“Stay at least 20 metres away, don’t disturb seals by making loud noises or throwing things, keep dogs and children away, don’t feed the seals and never attempt to touch a seal.”