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Homer the Seal Seals Off Boat Ramp

April 13, 2000

GISBORNE, New Zealand (AP) _ A two-ton seal is causing problems in a small New Zealand town, crunching cars, trailers and trees as he tries to scratch an insatiable itch.

Nicknamed Homer by locals _ after the overweight father character in ``The Simpsons″ television show _ the 4,400-pound elephant seal took up residence two weeks ago at a boat ramp in Gisborne, 250 miles north of the capital of Wellington.

He has been a draw for sightseers ever since, but has become a pest by using cars, boat trailers and other objects as scratching posts.

Officials said Thursday they also fear he could harm people who venture too near.

Lumbering around the parking lot near the ramp, Homer has approached empty cars, reared onto his hindquarters then brought down his massive bulk on fenders, bumpers and mirrors, squashing them.

``He’s damaged three vehicles to our knowledge, he’s destroyed a rubbish tin, he’s flattened a couple of boat trailers, and he’s destroyed a tree,″ said Jamie Quirk, a conservation department officer. ``He gets quite aggressive at times.″

Conservation department officers have posted signs warning bystanders to keep clear of the heavyweight visitor, and are examining ways of encouraging him to find a new home.

Local fishermen say Homer is blocking the boat ramp and stopping them from entering the water, but no one has been willing to try to shift the beast.

``Most of the time he is just playing, leaning on something or trying to scratch himself,″ said Jill Hudson of the Conservation Department.

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