The Sydney Opera House seal is back - with a friend

The juvenile fur seal on the Opera House VIP steps. Photo: James D. Morgan/Getty Images

The New Zealand fur seal with the best residence in Sydney – the steps leading to the harbour in the northwest corner of the Opera House forecourt, has returned, this time with a friend – a baby seal.

The city’s most famous squatter first turned up at the landmark in October 2014, returning last year and now, for the third year in a row. NZ fur seals, also known as long-nosed seals, are listed as vulnerable under the Threatened Species Conservation Act.

A NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service spokesperson told Business Insider that the juvenile seal’s sex is unknown and it’s believed to be unrelated to the adult.

“When a seal comes ashore temporarily this is known as hauling out. In most cases, the animals will depart of their own accord within a day or two,” he said.

The adult male, nicknamed Benny, became something of an unofficial mascot for the Opera House and returned late last week. He’s since been spotted around the harbour basking, with his flippers in the air – a practice known as thermo-regulating to control body temperature.

Shona Lorigan from ORRCA said Benny is the picture of the perfect seal, with a big layer of blubber. He’s also “very feisty”.

His new friend is from the class of the 2014-15 summer, joining him for what Lorigan called seal mentoring.

“It’s a buddy system – they watch and learn from the older seal,” she said.

More importantly, it’s a sign that NZ fur seal numbers are starting to recover.

“2016 has been a phenomenal year. There’s been a massive increase in the number of seals we’re seeing,” Lorigan said, adding that they’re now monitoring a number of sites around Sydney.

“Seals were once a common sight on all the city’s beaches,” she said, before hunting nearly drove the species to extinction.

A number of seals have been seen around the eastern side of the harbour this year – a sign that the waterway is also in good condition.

Lorigan said that if you encounter a seal, stay clear of it. A threatened animal will bite – and that mouth is full of bacteria, Lorigan warns.

By law people and boats should keep 40m away from adult seals and 80m from pups.

The NPWS and Sydney Opera House are monitoring the duo 24/7 during their Bennelong Point stay via CCTV and regular patrols, but you can still pop down and marvel at them as they enjoy the best seat in the house.

Here’s Benny at the Opera House:

And out in the harbour, thermo-regulating:

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