Date: 05 July 2019
From July to November each year, there’s an influx in newly weaned seal pups and adolescent seals appearing on our shores and sometimes further inland.
Usually the seals are just resting before they head out to sea again in search of food and are not in need of any help. Mums also leave their pups for short periods to feed and pups may go exploring during this time.
DOC Whanganui Senior Biodiversity Ranger Sara Treadgold is asking people to be aware and mindful of seals when walking along Castlecliff, Kaiiwi and South Beach.
Seals may look distressed and scrawny, display signs of sneezing or coughing and may have weepy eyes, but it’s just natural for them, and they really don’t need any human help. They will return to the water and swim away when they are rested and ready to go.
“Inquisitive seals have been known to travel as far as 10 kilometres inland, up streams. They can appear in unusual places, such as a paddock, roadside or an inner-city street. This is a normal occurrence from exploratory behaviour.
“Seals are capable and resilient and given time and space; they usually find their way home.
“It’s important to keep dogs away from seals. Dogs can attack seals and if in direct contact with a seal. they can potentially pass on diseases.
“Other seal species, including the leopard seal, can also turn up on beaches. Leopard seals are very large animals. They could easily crush a person simply by rolling over and can move surprisingly quickly on land. Although they have small teeth, they are capable of penetrating another seal's skin and can inflict a serious wound to humans.
“While seals may look harmless and helpless, they are wild animals and will defend themselves if they feel threatened. They can carry 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 hotline 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468).
It is an offence under the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978 to disturb, harass, harm, injure or kill a seal. A dog owner whose dog attacks a seal could face prosecution.
Once near extinction due to widespread hunting, New Zealand fur seals/kekeno are now experiencing a population comeback and recolonising much of their former range. This means we’re seeing more of them playing along our rocky shorelines throughout mainland New Zealand.
If you encounter a seal on or near a beach, you should:
- leave it to rest
- always keep dogs on a leash, under control and away from seals
- ensure small children are kept at a safe distance and under control when watching seals
- stay at least 20 metres away
- do not get between the seal and the sea
- do not touch or feed the seal.
New Zealand fur seals once lived and bred right round the coast of New Zealand. But they were hunted for more than 700 years.
An estimated 2 million New Zealand fur seals 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.
In 1991, almost 100 years after sealing was banned, New Zealand fur seals began breeding again at Cape Palliser, at the very bottom of the North Island. Since then fur seals have also been gradually recolonising the North Island coast.
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