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


A crabeater seal has travelled all the way from Antarctica to spend its final days on Waikawa Beach.

Date:  20 July 2017

The unusual visitor was first observed by a resident of Waikawa Beach on Sunday 16 July.

On Monday 17 July, marine mammal experts confirmed it was a crabeater seal (Lobodon carcinophagus– very rarely seen around New Zealand. Most crabeater seals spend their entire lives on the pack-ice around Antarctica.

Duncan Toogood, Acting District Manager for DOC Manawatu, says the seal was not in good shape when it was assessed by DOC staff. Sadly, the condition of the seal was such that DOC had to euthanise it.

“It was very emaciated, and showed no indication that it was willing or able to return to the sea.”

Crabeater seals don’t eat crabs, despite what their name suggests. They use their tri-lobed teeth to filter seawater and feed on krill - a very abundant food source in the Antarctic ocean but much less so in New Zealand waters.

“It was a matter of the animal’s welfare,” says Duncan. “Veterinary advice suggests that the seal was severely malnourished and wouldn’t recover on its own.”

There are no facilities in New Zealand that are able to treat and rehabilitate a crabeater seal.

With an estimated population of about 15 million, crabeater seals are the most abundant seal species in the Southern Ocean. However, they are rare visitors to New Zealand’s coast, usually remaining within the Antarctic circle.

In March 2015, a crabeater seal was seen around Wellington before swimming up the Hutt River where it subsequently died. Records collated by Te Papa indicate that the Waikawa seal is the 9th crabeater seal to be reported in New Zealand and the 6th for the Wellington region.

You are most likely to see kekeno (NZ fur seals) on New Zealand beaches.

All seals come ashore to rest or breed – they don’t want to be disturbed by people or dogs. Seals are fascinating creatures and DOC encourages people to watch and enjoy them safely from a distance.

Seals are typically best left to themselves, unless they are in obvious trouble. If you come across a seal that has been injured, or one that is in danger of being harmed or causing harm, call the DOC hotline at 0800 362 468.

All marine mammals are protected under the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978; it is an offence to harm or disturb any marine mammal.


Kelly Hancock
Community Ranger
Phone: +64 6 350 9671

Back to top