Although New Zealand fur seals (kekeno) are marine mammals, they spend a lot of time on land. Like people – seals look for a warm, safe place to rest during the cold winter months. During this time, you are more likely to see them coming ashore.
The Department of Conservation’s (DOC) Manawatū Rangitīkei office has already followed up on two injured seals reported at local beaches. The first was a juvenile seal with an eye injury at Foxton Beach, which probably went to sea as DOC staff were unable to find it. The second report was for an adult seal with injuries to its eye and jaw at Scotts Ferry, lying on the beach near the access-way. Attempts were made to move the seal at Scotts Ferry, but it refused to move and was left to rest and recover on its own.
DOC Biodiversity Programme Manager Nikki Pindur says that seals are surprisingly resilient creatures. “Unless a fur seal is in obvious trouble, they are best left to the original expert – nature,” she explains.
“It can be a bit tricky to figure out if a seal is actually in trouble,” says Ms. Pindur. “Seals do lots of things that seem unusual but are completely normal seal behaviour.”
If you see a seal doing any of these things, the best thing you can do is to leave it alone:
- Vomiting, sneezing or coughing - it is probably getting rid of undigested food like squid beaks and fragments of fish bone.
- Crying - seals don’t have tear ducts, weeping is their way of getting rid of excess moisture.
- Young pups left on their own - a young seal spends days at a time (often in winter), waiting for their mother to return from foraging so they can suckle.
- Drifting in the waves - a sea-sleeping seal floats on its side.
- Lying on its back or side and flapping its flippers in the air - kekeno don’t strand like whales or dolphins. The seal is trying to cool off.
- Not moving - lying down to rest is the number one behaviour of seals on land.
There are times when a little human intervention might be necessary. Never attempt to handle a seal yourself. Call the DOC Hotline (0800 DOCHOT or 0800 362468) if you come across a seal in any of the following situations, they’ll know what to do:
- Playing in the drain at the back of your garden - seals turn up in unexpected places. They usually move on when they are ready but in some cases they may need help. You cannot keep a kekeno. Though they may look cute, they do not make good pets and need to be in the wild.
- Entangled in plastic or other rubbish - marine debris may tighten as the fur seal grows, causing injury or death.
- Being harassed by people or dogs - the safety of both the fur seal and the people or dogs involved is at risk. Seals can be unpredictable when threatened and can carry diseases that can be transmitted.
- Relaxing on the road - DOC will safely remove a seal to prevent road deaths.
- Severely injured - seals can rarely be rehabilitated. It is best to let nature take its course. If an animal is clearly suffering, all DOC can do is put it down.
“These quirky creatures are at home on the beach. If you get the opportunity to see a seal onshore this winter, please respect it. Don’t get too close (for your own safety and the seals), and keep dogs away,” recommends Ms Pindur.