Introduction

Following phone calls from the public concerned about the welfare of New Zealand fur seals in Gisborne, DOC is reminding the public to leave seals alone to rest.

Acting Conservation Services Manager, Don McLean says last week a juvenile New Zealand fur seal made itself at home on the river walkway near the Peel Street bridge. Due to a number of dogs in the area staff relocated it safely to the beach at Te Tapuwae o Rongokako Marine Reserve.

 Juvenile fur seal by river walkway near the Peel Street bridge, Gisborne. Photo: Trudi Ngawhare.
Juvenile fur seal by river walkway in Gisborne

“The weather was probably a factor, as the sea was rough, but it’s not unusual for seals to be seen at this time of the year. It is more common between August to November for newly-weaned fur seal pups and juveniles to come ashore, but it’s just a resting up period for them before they again head out to sea in search of food.”

“The seals may look distressed and scrawny and display signs of sneezing and coughing and have weepy eyes, but that’s just natural for them and they really don’t need any human intervention.  They will return to the water and swim merrily away as soon as they feel up to it.”

Mr McLean says while seals may look harmless and helpless they are wild animals and will defend themselves if they feel threatened. They can be carrying infectious diseases and can cause serious injuries. 

DOC has a hands-off policy with seals and will only intervene if a seal is obviously and severely injured, or is entangled in marine debris or is in a dangerous place such as on or near a public road.  In that case, people could call the 24-hour DOC HOTLINE (0800 362 468).

If you encounter a seal on or near a beach please leave it to rest:

  • Always keep dogs on a leash, under control and away from seals
  • Ensure you keep small children at a safe distance and under your control when watching seals
  • Avoid getting closer than 20 metres
  • Do not get between the seal and the sea
  • Do not touch or feed the seal

Background information

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

An estimated two million New Zealand fur seal were clubbed to death in the early 1800s 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.

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