Archived content: This media release was accurate on the date of publication. 


DOC is stressing the importance of keeping your distance and ensuring dogs are on a leash when where around seals.

Date:  02 September 2016

The Department of Conservation (DOC) is starting to receive an influx of calls from the public concerned about the welfare of seals on the East Coast.

East Coast Operations Manager, John Lucas says a leopard seal, at Kopututea Beach (Gisborne) last week, was a reminder not to go near a seal. “The seal was very tired and resting on an access-way to the beach. To ensure the seal was not disturbed, and public safety, staff placed signs and continued to monitor the seal.”

“I must stress the importance of keeping your distance and ensuring dogs are on a leash” he said.

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

“The seals may look distressed and scrawny and display signs of sneezing, 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 Lucas 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 severely injured, 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 DOCHOTLINE (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.


Jamie Quirk, Ranger Biodiversity
Department of Conservation, Gisborne
Phone: +64 6 869 0460 or +64 27 432 4920

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