Every winter, the Ohau Stream waterfall on New Zealand's South Island becomes something of a water park for local fur seal pups, and it appears that nothing – not even a 7.8 magnitude earthquake – will stop these pinnipeds from enjoying their aquatic playground.
Despite being situated just north of Kaikoura, the town hardest hit by the devastating November earthquake, the nationally protected seal colony was verified safe and mostly intact by Jackson Lidgard, a resident of a local farm. Lidgard had been attempting to travel to Kaikoura from his farm via bicycle – to see if the route was still passable after the quake – when he detoured to check in on the seals.
"I'd say it's gonna be OK," Ligard told Stuff.co.nz. Although earlier reports suggested that the area had been more or less destroyed by the earthquake, Ligard captured footage of a still-intact, albeit damaged, waterfall. He said he expected the next heavy rainfall to wash away much of the loose rock and debris that had fallen into the pond at base of the waterfall.
Prior to the earthquake, seal pups would swim up the Ohau Stream and make their way more than 1.6 kilometres (about a mile) inland from the sea to the waterfall. The stream and the natural waterfall-formed pool provided a freshwater haven away from predators like sharks in the winter months, so mother seals would leave the youngsters to frolic here while they headed out to hunt, returning periodically to feed their offspring.
Seals in general are famous for their curiosity and playfulness, but the site of the Ohau Point Seal Colony is unique in allowing such behaviour to be observed.
In addition to the large number of human fans who regularly made the trek to the falls to watch the seals' antics, the location has also been of interest to conservationists and researchers. One such conservationist is ranger Mike Morrissey of New Zealand's Department of Conservation, who says that, fortunately, the seals appear to be adapting to the post-quake disturbances.
"A lot of them have just moved north into the bigger rocks that are now exposed and having their pups there," said Morrissey.
He added that the seals were making a new colony just a hundred metres away from their original location, and apparently to great success. "There's big boulders there, so when you walk along, every big crack there's a female with a pup. It's really good."
New Zealand government officials say it may be some time before debris is cleared from the seal pup swimming hole on account of more pressing repairs across the country taking precedence. In the meantime, the seal pups may stick to the stream itself, making them harder to see – but at least they're still there. Considering the violence of the earthquake, that's no small feat.
Top header image: Bernard Spragg, Flickr