New Zealand fur seals on their big OE

Department of Conservation —  11/08/2017

Kekeno/New Zealand fur seals are the most common seals in New Zealand. As with our sea lions, they can be told apart from other seals by their ear flaps and back flippers that rotate forward, helping them move on land. Kekeno are smaller than sea lions though, and have a pointier nose.


Adult kekeno/New Zealand fur seal. Photo:

Kekeno/New Zealand fur seals have something unusual in common with many young New Zealanders. It’s not their diet – I don’t know many teenage kiwis who eat mostly squid and small fish, and it’s not their tendency to groan loudly at each other, although you could be forgiven for assuming that was the similarity I’m talking about. No, it’s their tendency to head off on adventures to far-away countries. Kekeno are partial to the kiwi ‘big OE‘.


One of the first accounts of our seals hanging out far from home was in August 2012. A seal showed up on Rurutu Island a little island in French Polynesia near Tahiti. Having no native mammals, the seal confused locals who sent an email to us to figure out where he’d come from. Rurutu Island is well over 3,000 kilometres away from New Zealand, so he was quite far from home!


New Zealand fur seal relaxing on a rock in Rarotonga

A few years later in July 2016 another kekeno was seen in Rarotonga, swimming in a lagoon. Again, this seal had to swim over 3,000 kilometres to get there, so it’s not surprising that locals described that he rested on a rock for quite a few hours once he’d finished frolicking in their lagoon.

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New Zealand fur seal being checked in Tahiti

One month later in August another young seal was found wandering (or waddling?) the streets in Tahiti. This one was taken in by local authorities for a vet check before releasing it to the coast, but not without close monitoring to ensure the traveler was treated with respect.

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New Zealand fur seal on the rocks in New Caledonia. Photo: Claude METZDORF

The winter months must be a popular time for our fur seals to leave chilly New Zealand shores in search of a warmer climate, because only last month another seal was seen very far from home. This time in New Caledonia. This seal has showed up on the island’s west coast, in a little place called Poya. The seal was spotted by some surprised locals, who were worried because it had what looked like a shark bite on its back. The adventurous kekeno stayed on the beach for just under a week, under the watchful eye on the local police and a team of environmental officers, before setting off again.

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New Zealand fur seal in New Caledonia. Photo: Claude METZDORF

No matter where our fur seals roamed, the local Government authorities always got in touch with us to ask how they should protect their international visitors. Our marine adventurers are clearly in safe hands.