Pinnipeds are divided into three families: walruses, true seals and eared seals. True seals do not have external ears, cannot turn their hind flippers forward (therefore can not walk on them), and have fur on both surfaces of their flippers. New Zealand examples include the leopard seal and southern elephant seal.
Eared seals include fur seals and sea lions. They have external ears, hind flippers they can turn forward under the body and walk on and no fur on the under side of their flippers. New Zealand examples are the New Zealand fur seal and New Zealand sea lion.
A large group of seals during breeding is called a harem. Adult males are called bulls and females are called cows, while a young seal is a pup. Immature males are sometimes called SAMs (sub-adult males) or bachelors.
All seals, whales and dolphins are protected under the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978.
DOC is interested in sightings of New Zealand sea lions, and any tagged New Zealand fur seals. You can also report sightings of any other seal species spotted in New Zealand.
Report sightings using our online form.
Leopard seals primarily inhabit the Antarctic pack ice, but during autumn and winter animals disperse northward throughout the Southern Ocean, sometimes visiting New Zealand. Some animals have been known to spend a year or more continuously in New Zealand waters.