Fur seal
Image: DOC

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


DOC Rangers are preparing for an annual influx of calls relating to seals – although Rangers say many of these calls are misplaced.

Date:  07 June 2019

Seals are marine mammals, however, they spend much of their time on land – particularly between June and September.

Tauranga Biodiversity Ranger Karl McCarthy says even though this is normal seal behaviour many people are concerned by it.

“Each year we receive a lot of calls from concerned members of the public. It’s great that the community cares so much about these mammals but a large number of callers describe normal seal behaviour like drifting in the water or lazing on a beach.”

Seals are often observed sneezing and coughing which Rangers say may look odd, but is likely to be the seal getting rid of undigested food like squid beaks and fish bones.

“There are often a couple of calls a year from people concerned that the seal is crying but seals don’t have tear ducts,” McCarthy says.

“Weepy eyes are normal moisture secretions. It’s also normal for seals to be immobile – seals are good at lying around and resting!”

McCarthy says DOC doesn’t want to discourage genuine calls about seal welfare and encourages the public to phone 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468) if there is a genuine need for attention such as a seal being harassed by people or dogs.

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.

“Fur seals are wild animals and will defend their territory aggressively. They can also carry infectious diseases and can inflict serious injury with their teeth”

DOC advises staying at least 20 m away from a seal, not to touch or feed the animal and to keep dogs on a leash, under control and away from seals.

Background information

All seals, sea lions, dolphins and whales are protected under the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978. It’s an offence to harass, disturb, injure or kill marine mammals.

Anyone charged with harassing, disturbing, injuring or killing a marine mammal faces a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment or a fine to maximum of $250,000.


Brad Angus,
Biodiversity Senior Ranger Supervisor
Email: bangus@doc.govt.nz

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