Date: 15 June 2022
Reports are flooding in from around the country of adventurous seals turning up in unusual areas.
“It’s that time of year again – seal silly season,” says Marine Science Advisor Laura Boren. “Despite it happening every winter, it takes people by surprise.”
“It’s exciting because it really indicates that fur seals are doing well, and this time of year provides for some unique and special encounters with them.”
Between May and September young seals, and male seals of any age, can be spotted as they leave their breeding colonies to explore and rest. This includes newly weaned pups finding their way in the world.
“We’ve had reports from the West Coast, where a seal turned up at the Hokitika Transfer Station, a three or four kilometre swim from the sea, all the way up to Northland, where two seals were recently moved off the main road in Whangarei,” says Laura Boren.
In May, a kekeno was rescued in Otago after becoming entangled in fishing gear, the third to be successfully freed in the area since late April.
Although kekeno are marine mammals, they spend much of their time on land resting and basking in the sun. They are most often found on rocky shores but are curious and exploratory by nature, occasionally traveling up rivers. Last October, one adventurous seal in the Waikato ventured to the Hobbiton movie set, 90 km inland.
Laura Boren said people may feel concerned seeing young pups alone, or seals regurgitating, sneezing, coughing, or crying.
“This is all part of their normal behaviour, and they are very resilient animals. Watch, enjoy them from a distance, and let them be. Call the DOC hotline only if they are in immediate danger, like relaxing on a road, severely injured, or tangled in debris.”
DOC takes a hands-off approach with seals and will only intervene if the animal is in danger, or in high-traffic urban areas.
One way for people to help keep kekeno safe during this season is to keep dogs under control.
“If you are walking your dog in areas where seals regularly haul out, or see a seal on your beach, put your dog on a lead until you are away from the seal,” says Laura Boren.
“Nearly half of the hotline calls we receive about dogs and wildlife interactions are seals or sea lions being harassed or attacked. This is bound to be a fraction of what occurs.”
“It’s a year-round issue but particularly this time of year, when you can come across seals in unexpected places.”
If you see a seal which is severely injured, being harassed, or in obvious danger, call 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468).
Learn more about behaviour around kekeno: The Seal Deal (PDF, 1,607K)
DOC’s Lead the Way programme offers guidance for dog behaviour around coastal wildlife.
Never touch or handle a seal as they can be very aggressive if threatened. It is also a breach of the Marine Mammals Protection Act.
People should keep a distance of at least 20 metres from kekeno, if possible, and not get between the seal and the sea. If you encounter a seal on or near a beach, please give it space.
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.
Do not get closer than 20 metres.
Do not get between the seal and the sea.
Do not touch or feed the seal.
Kekeno populations have made a remarkable recovery in New Zealand. They were hunted extensively from the 16th to 18th centuries, with some experts estimating the population fell as low as 10,000 seals.
The last population count in 2001 estimated there were 200,000 kekeno. This number is certain to be much higher now. The population rebound is something to be celebrated, but it does mean we will need to adjust to having more kekeno in our lives, on our beaches and near our cities.
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