Source: Department of Conservation
Date: 19 April 2021
Although seals are marine mammals, they spend a lot of time on land, particularly between July and November. They can sometimes show up in places you might not expect, occasionally following rivers upstream. Rough weather conditions can also encourage them to seek shelter on shore.
DOC Whanganui Senior Biodiversity Ranger Sara Treadgold says even though people may be concerned, this behaviour is normal.
“We receive calls from the public each year from people concerned about a seal they’ve seen. While the Department appreciates the community’s help, in most cases the seal is fit and well,” she says.
“Seals on land sometimes cough or sneeze, and often have weepy eyes. They also enjoy drifting in the surf or lazing on the beach, which are completely natural behaviours. They will return to the sea when they are rested and ready to go.
“Inquisitive seals have been known to travel as far as 10 kilometres inland, up rivers. They can appear in unusual places, such as a paddock, roadside or an inner-city street. This is a normal exploratory behaviour. Baby seals are often left onshore while the mother feeds out at sea.”
Baby seals should never be moved unless in immediate danger, as mothers may abandon pups if they can’t find them when they return.
“Seals are capable and resilient and given time and space; they usually find their way home.
“It’s important to keep dogs away from seals. Dogs can attack seals and if threatened a seal can injure and pass on diseases to dogs or people.
“It’s also important to remember these are wild animals and shouldn’t be approached. They have sharp teeth and can move quickly if they feel threatened. Keep your distance, at least 20 metres.”
“And it’s not just fur seals,” Sara adds.
“We do sometimes see other marine mammals like leopard seals on our coastline, which is pretty special. The same guidelines apply for them – give them space and let them rest.”
DOC has a hands-off policy with seals and will only intervene if a seal is severely injured, entangled in marine debris, or is in a dangerous place such as a public road. On the occasion where DOC does need to intervene, Sara Treadgold says it’s important for the public leave this to DOC as rangers are experienced in their response.
Anyone who has genuine concerns about the welfare of an animal, such as a seal being harassed or that has severe injuries, should get in touch with 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468).
It is an offence under the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978 to disturb, harass, harm, injure or kill any marine wildlife. A dog owner whose dog attacks a seal could face prosecution.
Once near extinction on mainland New Zealand due to widespread hunting, fur seals/kekeno are now experiencing a population comeback and recolonising much of their former range. This means we’re seeing more of them playing along our rocky shorelines throughout mainland New Zealand.
If people encounter a seal on or near a beach, they should:
- Leave it to rest
- Always keep dogs on a leash, under control and away from seals
- Ensure small children are kept at a safe distance and under control when watching seals
- Stay at least 20 metres away
- Do not get between the seal and the sea
- Do not touch or attempt to feed the seal
New Zealand fur seals once lived and bred right round the coast of New Zealand. But they were hunted for more than 700 years.
An estimated two million New Zealand fur seals were clubbed to death in the early 1800s to make fur seal hats and coats. Oil from their bodies was also burned in lamps for lighting.
By the 1830s, the New Zealand fur seal was close to extinction. Sealing was finally banned in 1894. Since then their numbers have been rising and gradually fur seals have been re-colonising our coastline.
In 1991, almost 100 years after sealing was banned, New Zealand fur seals began breeding again at Cape Palliser, at the very bottom of the North Island. Since then fur seals have also been gradually recolonising the North Island coast.
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