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Meet Neil the seal, the elephant seal in Tasmania captivating the internet


There is a different kind of Tasmanian devil on the loose right now.



That's Neil the seal roaming the streets of Tasmania, Australia.



CHANG: And Neil is actually kind of a celebrity. It's unusual now to see a seal do a chicken's job - that is, crossing the street - but Neil loves the attention.

SHAPIRO: Though he can also be a nuisance.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Get out of here, Neil.


SHAPIRO: He is often found blocking roads and residents' doors.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Neil, someone lives here, mate.


AMBER HARRIS: I heard a noise outside, and I thought that somebody was trying to break into my car. So I looked out the window, and then next minute, I've got this big seal looking up at me in my bedroom window. And I was like, oh, hello (laughter).

CHANG: That's Amber Harris, who missed work because Neil was blocking her car. Though Neil is only three years old, he is still a growing southern elephant seal. Currently, he clocks in at about 1,300 pounds.

SHAPIRO: Marine ecologist Sophia Volzke works at the Institute for Marine Antarctic Studies, and some of her colleagues helped move Neil last year.

SOPHIA VOLZKE: I saw a photo of maybe 10 strong men with a big tarp, and they lifted him up to the back of a trailer. That wouldn't be possible this year. He's gained so much more weight. You'd have to get a crane at some point, and that's just a massive effort.

SHAPIRO: At the time, Neil was getting harassed by people and dogs in Kingston Beach.

CHANG: So to keep him safe, the Department of Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania moved him to a more secluded area. But Neil keeps coming back.

SHAPIRO: Since Neil was a pup, he's frequented different beaches near Tasmania's capital, Hobart. Volzke says fewer than 10 southern elephant seals have been born in Tasmania in the last 20 years. She studies this species and isn't surprised that Neil returns to the island's beach town this time every year.

VOLZKE: This is the time where they molt, so they need to be on land to do this, and they don't go back to sea because they need to shed their skin.

CHANG: Southern elephant seals like Neil were hunted into extinction in Tasmania in the 19th century.

VOLZKE: So he's the only one that we know of that is an actual local elephant seal.

CHANG: Volzke says she's thrilled that people are excited about Neil, but...

VOLZKE: It's important that we educate the public to keep their distance and to respect wildlife in general, to give them space.

SHAPIRO: And yet, there's just something about Neil and his antics that keep people across the internet posting their love for Neil the seal.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: This is my son now.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: He's a scallywag, a silly little guy, and he enjoys breaking and entering into lawns that are not his.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: He is so cute.

CHANG: So the next time someone sends you a cat video, be sure to send them Neil the seal.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Emma Klein
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.