NZ fur seal/kekeno
Image: Katie Clement | Creative Commons

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


Once near extinction due to widespread hunting, the New Zealand fur seal/kekeno are recolonising much of their former range as their population rebounds.

Date:  09 September 2021

This means we'll be seeing more of them playing along our rocky shorelines throughout mainland New Zealand.

From July to September each year there is an influx of juvenile seals appearing on our shores and further inland. This is because seal pups begin to wean as their mothers prepare for new pups. 

This year, along the Bay of Plenty coastline, as we emerge from our COVID-19 lockdown, many locals are having encounters as we get out and enjoy nature again.

Seals can wander as far as 15 km inland, often by following rivers and streams. They can appear in unusual places, such as a paddock, roadside or an inner-city street. They really like to explore.

People often call DOC about seal pups being ‘abandoned’ but this is typically just seals exhibiting their natural behaviour.

Sneezing, coughing and crying are all normal seal behaviours and pups may be left alone for days at a time while their mother forages at sea. Seals are capable and resilient and, given time and space, they usually find their way home.

Seals are wild animals and will defend themselves if they feel threatened. While they look harmless, seals can inflict serious injuries to dogs or people and can carry infectious diseases.

DOC is often called about dogs attacking or chasing seals.

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 – so, please keep your dog on a lead.

Safety guidelines when watching seals:

  • stay at least 20 m away
  • don’t disturb seals by making loud noises or throwing things
  • keep dogs and children away – give seals their ‘bubble’
  • don’t feed the seals
  • never attempt to touch a seal.

DOC has a hands-off approach with seals but will intervene if the animal is in obvious danger such as getting too close to a road, is tangled in debris, being harassed by dogs or people or is seriously injured.

What to do if you're concerned:

  • Ask: is the seal in danger, injured or being harassed by people or dogs?
  • If so, call our emergency hotline 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468).
  • Never attempt to move or handle a seal yourself: they are aggressive when stressed and it’s important not to separate a mother and her pup.

If you’re unsure call 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468).

Background information

What’s normal?

The following are natural behaviours, and you don't need to intervene. You may see seals:

  • looking distressed and scrawny
  • sneezing, coughing and with weepy eyes 
  • drifting in the waves
  • flapping flippers as if stranded
  • immobile
  • fighting
  • pups spending time away from their mothers.

The New Zealand fur seal/kekeno feed mainly on squid and small mid-water fish but also take larger species such as conger eels, barracuda, jack mackerel and hoki, mostly off the continental shelf.

They dive deeper and longer than any other fur seal. Female fur seals on the West Coast are known to (occasionally) dive deeper than 238 m, and for as long as 11 minutes.


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