What to do if you find a seal
IntroductionIf you find a New Zealand fur seal it's usually best to leave it alone, however, there are exceptions.
Where you'll see seals
Once near extinction due to widespread hunting, New Zealand fur seals are now experiencing a population comeback and recolonising much of their former range. This means we'll be seeing more of them playing along our rocky shorelines throughout mainland New Zealand, the Chatham Islands and the subantarctic islands.
From July to September each year there's an influx in adolescent seals appearing on our shores and further inland. This is because seal pups begin to wean as their mothers prepare for new pups.
Seals can wander as far as 15 km inland, often by following rivers and streams. They can appear in unusual places, such as a paddock, roadside or an inner-city street. This is a normal occurrence from exploratory behaviour.
Leave seals alone
DOC takes a ‘hands off’ approach to seals. They are capable and resilient and given time and space, they usually find their way home.
Don't feed seals as they can become reliant on humans for food.
Seals are wild animals and will defend themselves if they feel threatened. Adult seals can move surprisingly quickly on land. While they can look harmless, seals can inflict serious injuries to dogs or people and can carry infectious diseases.
It is an offence under the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978 to disturb, harass, harm, injure or kill a seal. A dog owner whose dog attacks a seal could face prosecution.
Safety guidelines when watching seals
- stay at least 20 m away
- don’t disturb seals by making loud noises or throwing things
- keep dogs and children away
- don’t feed the seals
- never attempt to touch a seal.
The following are all natural behaviours and you don't need to intervene. You may see seals:
- looking distressed and scrawny
- sneezing, coughing and with weepy eyes
- drifting in the waves
- flapping flippers as if stranded
- pups spending time away from their mothers.
When we need to intervene
There are exceptions to our ‘hands off' approach. DOC will intervene if a seal is:
- in notably poor condition
- in immediate danger
- tangled in debris
- causing disruption, eg in the middle of a road
- being harrased.
What to do if you're concerned
- Ask: is the seal in danger, injured or being harassed by people or dogs?
- If so, call our emergency hotline 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468).
- Never attempt to move or handle a seal yourself: they are aggressive when stressed and it’s important not to separate a mother and her pup.
- If you’re unsure: call 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468).
What you need to tell us
- The location of the seal and how to get to it
- The species of the seal, or a description of what it looks like
- What is wrong with the seal
- The state of the tide
- The local weather and sea conditions
- Your contact phone number.
If you accidentally catch or harm a seal
You must report it as soon as possible to our conservation hotline 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468) or the Ministry for Primary Industries (0800 008 333).
If the seal is alive you should release it back into the water as quickly and gently as possible, provided it is safe to do so. Be particularly careful with seals as they may be aggressive and bite.
If the seal is dead, either release the carcass at sea or preferably bring it to shore for us to recover.
If you find a dead seal
Leave the dead seal where it is.
You only need to report it to our conservation hotline 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468) if:
- it is tagged, an unusual species, or looks like a suspicious death
- it is in a public place or on public property and is a potential health risk – ask us to remove it, don’t try to do this yourself.