A New Zealand fur seal (kekeno) was shot, apparently by a member of the public, while it lay resting on the beach north of the Foxton Beach Surf Club on Saturday.
The seal was reported to the Department of Conservation (DOC) hotline by concerned locals on Saturday morning, and soon after DOC’s Andrew Mercer - who has several years experience in responding to seal callouts - attended the scene. Mr Mercer assessed the seal’s condition to be typical of one recovering from exhaustion. “It was pretty skinny and there were some flies around it, but that’s not unusual,” said Mr Mercer. “It responded appropriately to my prompts, so after observing it for a while, I left it to rest”.
But later that afternoon, DOC Area Manager Jason Roxburgh received reports that a seal had been shot. The body had been left on the beach so, with the help of the people that initially reported it, he had to bury the seal in the dunes.
Foxton Police Senior Constable Terry Hansen is troubled to hear that someone had taken it upon themselves to shoot the seal. “When I heard there was a seal on the beach I went to check it out - it looked like it needed a good rest after a long time at sea,” said Constable Hansen. “I always tell people to just leave them alone, unless they are obviously injured. Any decisions about whether a seal needs to be put down should always fall to DOC, not members of the public.”
Jason Roxburgh says, “it is not unusual to see tired, thin seals on the beach over the summer. This is a busy time for kekeno, with weaned pups heading out on their own, and the breeding season starting for the adults. It’s often the newly weaned pups that need a bit of a rest after foraging for food, and they regularly use the Manawatu/Horowhenua coastline.”
Reports of sick seals are common at this time of the year, but most of the time they are just resting and are OK. DOC staff have a lot of experience dealing with seals, and once assessed they are best left to look after themselves. “The concern people have for these beautiful animals is great, but it is really important to leave them to rest once DOC has been alerted.”
“For the safety of the people involved and the benefit of the animal, members of the public should never attempt to provide treatment for sick or injured seals. If an animal is clearly suffering, call 0800 DOCHOT and DOC staff will deal with the animal,” Mr Roxburgh advises. “A lot of people don’t realise that it is actually an offence to harass or harm native animals, which can carry quite hefty penalties.”
Under the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978, the Department of Conservation is responsible for treating or disposing of sick or dead marine mammals. Seals are resilient creatures, and the Department’s seal policy is one of minimum intervention. Unless a seal is being harassed, is entangled in marine debris, or is severely injured, it is usually left to the original expert - nature.