Auckland Zoo was delighted to be part of a team effort to help a young kekeno (NZ fur seal) pup bitten and injured by a cookiecutter shark recently, that we’re happy say is now back in the wild.

 The young pup, that had a perfectly circular chunk of skin bitten off just above its right shoulder joint (trademark cookiecutter), was discovered hauled up under public stairs at Muriwai beach in early August by Auckland Council park rangers. She subsequently moved further up on to one of the public platforms and was brought into the Zoo’s vet hospital last Thursday by Department of Conservation (DOC) Biodiversity Gabrielle Goodin.

“This pup was about nine months old – the age these seals are learning to fend for themselves, so they can sometimes get into a bit of strife like this when out at sea fishing ,” says Auckland Zoo’s Veterinary Services Manager, Dr James Chatterton.

 “While her wound was mildly infected, she had normal mobility and examination and radiographs (“X-rays”) confirmed there was no muscle, bone or nerve damage. She is in good body condition and has fed recently so the wound isn’t impacting her fishing ability. With the help of our marine mammal keepers, once we cleaned her wound, removed the dead skin and treated her with pain relief, long-acting antibiotics, an anti-parasitic medication (to repel the likes of flies) and gave her some extra hydration, she was ready to be released.  Because of the location and shape of her wound, it wasn’t possible to suture, but after just two days with us, it was already starting to heal, and should naturally close and heal within the next couple of weeks,” says James.

 On Saturday, Auckland Council park rangers for Muriwai Regional Park, Aimee Hoeberigs and Van Haresnape, who first spotted the injured pup and notified DOC, joined DOC’s Gabrielle Goodin and our vet James to release her at Muriwai’s Maukatia-Maori Bay.

 “After slowly checking out her environment, it was wonderful to see this pup make her way down the beach, dive into the water and start heading out to sea for what we hope will be a long healthy life,” says Gabrielle.

Gabrielle says public can best help kekeno like this pup and other marine mammals that may come ashore by keeping themselves and their dogs, well away from them – “at least 20 metres”.

 “In the case of this pup, there’s no need to contact DOC if you happen to see it. There’s always a chance it could spend more time near the rocks while it is recovering, but it has received all the treatment it needs, and we’ll be continuing to monitor the area. However, if you do come across a kekeno that is severely injured, entangled in marine debris or being hassled by dogs or by people, then please call the DOC Hotline (0800 DOC HOT / 0800 362 468).”

 DID YOU KNOW? Cookiecutter sharks, found in tropical and temperate waters, are by nature, parasitic – meaning they feed off larger animals without killing them. They grow to just 18 – 20 inches (50cm) and use their sharp pointed upper teeth to latch onto the skin of much larger animals and their thick, strong triangular lower teeth to scoop out mouth-sized chunks of flesh. Cookiecutter sharks feed closer to the surface at night and in deeper water during the day.