IS IT a bird? Is it a dugong? No, it's a New Zealand fur seal - in the balmy waters of Tin Can Bay.
Gympie amateur fishermen Sam Garrett and Helen Bushell snapped this photo (right) on Saturday morning of what Sea World yesterday confirmed to be a fur seal a long way from its home in South Australia.
The duo was fishing in a tinnie near the mouth of Kauri Creek about 9.30am when they spotted something unusual in the distance and decided to motor in closer to see what it was.
"At first we thought it was two birds," Ms Bushell said yesterday. "Then when we got right up to it we realised it was a seal. We couldn't believe it."
The pair got within 2m of the apparently relaxed marine mammal, which they said appeared to be in good health and perfectly aware that they were there.
"It didn't even move for about a minute," Ms Bushell said. "Sam had to turn the boat so we didn't bump into him. He didn't seem scared of us. He stayed like that (in the photo) for a while, then swam around a bit and then dived under and that was it. We didn't see him again."
The pair had been catching lots of small whiting in the area and had seen seven or eight dolphins nearby around the same time.
New Zealand fur seals are regularly spotted off the Gold Coast but Sea World marine sciences director Trevor Long said yesterday there were more than ever this year and he wasn't sure why.
"Whether it's an environmental issue or a nutrition issue we are not certain," he said.
Sea World had recently taken four lost, undernourished seals into its care, including one found near Moreton Island that had not been able to be nursed back to health.
A workshop including Sea World, government departments and other relevant organisations, will be held on the Gold Coast next month to determine the best approach to the escalating problem.
"The temperature is higher up here, the food source is different - they are not supposed to be up here," Mr Long said.
He said the Tin Can Bay seal, though it appeared to be in good condition, could have been looking to the Gympie boat for some food, as others who got caught in the northerly sweep up the east coast had been known to do.
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