Seal Ex Machina

Tuesday, September 17, 2019


Needle case in the form of a seal, c. 1880. Minneapolis Institute of Art, Bequest of Frank J. Sorauf.

Last week an unlikely accomplice helped Australian officials thwart an international drug gang: a massive, sleepy seal. After spotting an abandoned yacht on a tiny island off the coast of Western Australia, authorities scanning the area by plane spotted someone ducking down among some shrubs. When they arrived at the scene they discovered two men and over a ton of methylamphetamine, cocaine, and ecstasy collectively worth a billion Australian dollars. In their haste to get away, Antoine Dicenta and Graham Palmer angered an enormous seal, who blocked their path to escape. The men faced court in the nearby city of Geraldton last week and will do so again later this month. From the Guardian:

When police arrived, Dicenta and Palmer made a run for their dinghy but were thwarted by a huge sleeping seal, volunteer marine rescue service vice commander Damien Healy told ABC Radio. “They woke it up and it jumped up with its big chest out and bellowed at them.”

“The guys basically had the choice of going through the seal or getting arrested and they ended up choosing getting arrested.”

Western Australia police commissioner Chris Dawson had a tip for the pair: “If you’re in a hot pink shirt don’t try and hide in low scrub.”


Touch This if You Dare, by Henry Pointer, c. 1870. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Digital image courtesy the Getty’s Open Content Program.

In 1918 a six-pound toy Japanese spaniel single-handedly halted an attempted robbery at the home of her owner, Mrs. Olga Dooley. That day, men claiming to be officials from a nearby hospital arrived at Mrs. Dooley’s home and demanded to search the quarters of one of its residents, Mrs. Mae Burr, the superintendent of the hospital. When Mrs. Dooley refused them entry to Mrs. Burr’s rooms, the men began to attack her. That’s when Cutie, Mrs. Dooley’s pet and unwitting guard dog, intervened, yapping at and biting the attackers. Fearing injury, the men ran away. The story ran in the Chicago Daily Tribune under the headline “cutie” does her bit and foils wicked robbers:

Mrs. Dooley screamed for her Japanese butler, but there was no response. She ran to a telephone, but one of the men grabbed her. The other stood by the door. The woman screamed again. Out of an inner room came a ball of flying fur and sharp teeth and terrific growls.

Cutie had arrived to save her mistress. The dog sunk her teeth in the leg of the man that had hold on Mrs. Dooley. The other man ran. Mrs. Dooley pushed her assailant toward the door. Cutie bit harder and harder. The man yelled and vanished.