Sammy the seal and Captain Kalgan: The tragic tale of a charismatic seal and his unlikely friendship
Sammy the seal was a beloved figure in Albany until the day he was callously murdered. (ABC Great Southern: Ellie Honeybone)
Like Red Dog was to Western Australia’s north, Sammy the seal was to WA’s south.
The 120-kilogram New Zealand fur seal could be easily spotted on a beach in Albany and lived an adventurous life, surviving a gunshot wound and tuberculosis with the help of tour boat operator Johnathan ‘Captain Kalgan’ Jones.
Sadly, he met a similar fate to Red Dog, but instead of poison, he was mortally stabbed at the hands of a cruel human.
Immortalised by a statue, Sammy’s legend lives on, and Mr Jones will continue to hunt for his killer for the rest of his life.
The start of a wonderful friendship
Mr Jones arrived in Albany in the late 1990s and first came across Sammy at the Emu Point boat pens.
Each day as he walked towards his vessel Mr Jones would greet the seal with a good morning call, and after two years of continuing this tradition he was rewarded with a grunt in response.
“I thought that was by chance, but he did it every morning after that,” Mr Jones said.
“He was a great guy. A real character. A sense of humour.
“Sam used to come to my boat each day and followed me around like a dog.”
Mr Jones established his tour business in 2000.
His boat, the Kalgan Queen, features a glass bottom that provided the perfect viewing platform for passengers to spot Sammy.
“He used to roll under and wave,” Mr Jones said.
“He was a real showman.
“He was a wild animal that accepted humans. He was totally unique.”
One lucky seal
At one point during the eight years Mr Jones spent looking out for Sammy, the seal developed a nasty cough.
“I noticed some blood and it turns out he had tuberculosis,” Mr Jones said.
“The vet said if he jabbed Sam with a needle, he probably wouldn’t come back.
“So I paid for the medication and put it into some fish.”
During the treatment Sammy would disappear for a few days before returning, so Mr Jones kept paying for and administering the medication until one day the cough went away.
Mr Jones said on another occasion Sammy was injured by what he believed was an errant rifle shot from some shark hunters.
“I feared the worst,” he said.
“I found him on a bank and he had taken the bullet through the tail, so my son and I camped out for a week-and-a-half and fed him fish until he healed.
“I would do the same for most animals, but Sam was one-in-a-million.”
Johnathan ‘Captain Kalgan’ Jones with his vessel, the Kalgan Queen. (ABC Great Southern: Ellie Honeybone)
Taken too soon
It was February 14, 2006 when Mr Jones received a phone call that changed everything.
“They said there was a lot of blood on the bank,” he said.
“I brought my smaller boat down and tracked him. Found Sam floating in the shallows and brought him back.
“It was a very sad day.”
Sammy was remembered at a public funeral and his ashes were spread out into the harbour.
Mr Jones started a charity and with the money collected, along with a substantial donation of his own cash, he commissioned a statue of the seal, which now stands proudly at the boat pens.
“I quite often say ‘G’day Sam’ as I walk past now,” Mr Jones said.
“On February 14, I usually put a rose on the statue.
“I don’t share the story with guests on the cruise as it is too emotional, but I do joke and say I knew him before he was a fur coat.
“He trusted humans. He had more faith in them that I have got.”
Sammy has been immortalised with a statue at his favourite beach. (ABC Great Southern: Ellie Honeybone)
Loved by all, to be betrayed by one
At the time of Sammy’s death, the Department of Conservation and Land Management released a call for people to come forward with any information that would help with investigations into the seal’s death.
A media release published in August 2006 by the Department revealed the autopsy on Sammy at the time of his death identified that the seal had probably drowned after being seriously wounded.
Evidence showed the seal was possibly attacked with a long-bladed instrument on the beach where he usually rested.
In the aftermath of Sammy’s death, Mr Jones put forth a $5,000 cash reward for information.
He said he received several public tip-offs but a lack of hard evidence resulted in no charges.
“I will never let go,” Mr Jones said.
“If I could prove it, believe me I would.”
A new generation of seals
New Zealand fur seals breed on the southern Australian coastline and its near-shore islands.
Sammy was known to disappear during the summer breeding months and return to Emu Point a few kilograms lighter.
“He was the dominant male of this area, so I imagine there are quite a few of his offspring out there,” Mr Jones said.
“We have another seal now that has started to come to the boat in the last little while.
“We call him Simon. We don’t encourage him near the boat pens, but he has learnt to come by the boat and stick his fins out.”