The Department of Conservation is condemning the shooting of a New Zealand fur seal/kekeno found on a beach on Stewart Island and is asking for public help to find who is responsible.

Date:  23 September 2014

The Department of Conservation (DOC) is condemning the shooting of a New Zealand fur seal/kekeno found on a beach on Stewart Island and is asking for public help to find who is responsible. 

DOC acting Conservation Services Manager for the Southern Islands, Jo Hiscock, said the dead seal was found by trampers on Smokey Beach at the northern end of Stewart Island on 18 September and it appeared to have been shot at close range. The adult male seal had a single hole in its side, suggesting it was shot with a rifle. 

Shot seal on Stewart Island.
Bullet hole on shot seal

This is the third seal shooting since May this year. A critically endangered New Zealand sea lion/whakahau washed up at Deadmans Beach, Stewart Island in April this year. This young male sea lion was sent to Massey University for an autopsy, revealing he was shot twice with a high powered rifle. Another sea lion was shot at Port Adventure, Stewart Island, in June last year. 

A seal was shot in Napier in July this year and two seals were shot on the Kaikoura coast last year. 

DOC investigations into these cases have so far failed to identify the culprits. 

Ms Hiscock said the trampers who found the seal on Stewart Island last week were upset as it was obvious that it had been shot and they couldn’t understand why someone would commit such a senseless killing. 

“It’s deeply disappointing that someone would deliberately and callously shoot a fur seal like this. Thankfully, most people respect seals and appreciate seeing them on our coast,” she said. 

“This incident and recent seal and sea lion shootings in other parts of New Zealand have highlighted that we need the public to help us safeguard vulnerable marine mammal species. New Zealand fur seals are protected by law and it is an offence to kill or harm them.” 

Anyone charged under the Marine Mammals Act with harassing, disturbing, injuring or killing a seal faces a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment or a fine to a maximum of $250,000. The penalties were increased last year. 

Anyone with information on this or any other seal shootings or attacks is asked to contact the local DOC office, 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468) or the police.  

How to watch seals safely

  • Always keep dogs on a leash and under your control when around seals.
  • Always stay at least 20 m away from seals.
  • Ensure you keep small children at a safe distance and under your control when watching seals.
  • Do not disturb seals. Don't make loud noises or throw things at them.
  • Do not feed seals. They don’t need the food and won’t eat it. It also encourages them to approach people which can put people and the seal at risk.
  • Do not get between a seal and the sea.

Risks posed by seals

  • Seals can and do bite. They have sharp teeth, and incredibly strong jaws which are three times as strong as an average dog.
  • They are surprisingly agile on land and can move very quickly if startled.
  • Never attempt to touch or handle a seal. They can be aggressive if threatened.
  • They also carry diseases that can be passed to humans and people have diseases that can make seals sick.

Normal seal behaviour

  • Most seals reported as injured or sick are simply resting.
  • Regurgitating, sneezing or coughing is normal behaviour for seals.
  • Seals can appear to be "crying". These are natural moisture secretions .
  • Young seals are often left alone on land for days while their mothers are at sea feeding. They do not need help so do not try to move them.
  • Seals often drift in the waves.
  • Seals often flap their flippers in the air to regulate their temperature. It's not a sign that they are stranded.

When to call DOC about a seal

  • Call DOC if a seal is severely injured, entangled in net or rope, in danger from dogs, vehicles or any other human activity. Take photos and record vehicle registration numbers if possible.
  • Contact DOC by calling 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468)

Further information

Once fur seals lived and bred right round the coast of New Zealand. But they were hunted for more than 700 years, first by Māori and then from the 1790s by European sealers.

There were an estimated 2 million New Zealand fur seals when European sealers began clubbing them to death to make fur seal hats and coats. Oil from their bodies was also burned in lamps for lighting. By the 1830s the New Zealand fur seal was close to extinction. 

Sealing was finally banned in 1894. Since then their numbers have been rising and gradually fur seals have been re-colonising our coastline.

Related link

New Zealand fur seal/kekeno


Jo Hiscock, DOC acting Conservation Services Manager, Southern Islands
Phone +64 3 211 2430
Mobile +64 21 129 8924

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