New Zealand fur seals are making frequent appearances along our coast, as weaned pups ‘find their flippers’.
The Department of Conservation has received increased calls from people concerned about seals, especially pups. Kaitaia’s Biodiversity Programme Manager, Lester Bridson advises that, unless a seal is at danger from being attacked by a dog, the best policy is to leave it be.
New Zealand fur seal resting at Tauroa
Mr Bridson says fur seals can appear sick, as their eyes are often weepy, and they may seem lethargic, with poor fur condition. However, this is quite normal.
“They may have been at sea for a while, or could be moulting, so appear to be in poor condition, but seals have amazing healing properties. Even when they have sustained nasty cuts, they recover quickly,” Mr Bridson explains.
And anyone concerned that seals may be stranded or stuck up a bank can rest assured. Mr Bridson says they may appear cumbersome on land, but they are actually surprisingly agile.
“Seals come ashore to rest, and are often spotted basking in the sun on the rocks. They can climb banks and rocky cliffs, and can travel very quickly across the ground, especially if they feel threatened,” explains Mr Bridson.
New Zealand fur seals, or kekeno, are extremely cute, with their rich, chocolate-coloured fur coats and large liquid brown eyes. But they can become aggressive if they feel threatened, and are also carriers of disease that can be transferred to humans.
Mr Bridson advises watching them from a distance and respecting their personal space.
“Although generally quite docile, if they feel under threat, fur seals can become aggressive, especially when people come between them and the sea. So keep a respectful space between you and them, and don’t touch them, as you can pick up diseases from seals,” warns Mr Bridson.
With their valuable and attractive pelts, and as a rich source of protein, New Zealand fur seals were once hunted to near extinction, first by Maori and then later by European sealers. In 1894, they became fully protected under the law. It is an offence to interfere or harm them in any way.
Since becoming protected, the number of New Zealand fur seals has steadily increased and is now at 15% of what it would have originally been before human contact.
New Zealand fur seals are no longer considered to be in decline. DOC does not actively manage New Zealand fur seals and maintains a ‘hands off’ policy, unless the seals are under direct threat from dogs.
If a member of the public considers a seal to be under direct threat from a dog, please contact DOC on 0800DOCHOT (0800 362 468).