Seals – they’re charismatic creatures and are currently experiencing a population comeback. Our Marine Species and Threats Science Advisor, Laura Boren, shares tips on how we can all live alongside our marine mates in harmony, and why it’s sometimes important to let them be.
New Zealand fur seals/kekeno are fascinating creatures – anyone who’s been lucky enough to witness them playing along our rocky shorelines can testify to that. Unique from their international cousins with their external ears and hind flippers that rotate forward, kekeno draw attention wherever they wind up.
From May to August it’s common for young seals to come ashore. We like to think of it as “silly seal season”, and with the fantastic increase in the population – going from near extinction to more than 200,000 – we are going to see more and more of them! It’s important to remember that seals are wild animals and most of the time it is best just to leave them be.
Seals can show up in unusual places
You may often see seals at your local beach or along the coastline, but sometimes they pop up in some more unusual locations. While it may seem strange to come across a seal in a place where you think it has no business being – such as a paddock, roadside or even an inner-city street, this is actually perfectly normal exploratory behaviour.
When the pups – and sometimes even older seals such as sub-adults – are exploring, they can follow rivers and streams and end up many kilometres inland. Generally speaking, if they got themselves in there, they are perfectly capable of getting back. In some places they have been found as far as 15 kilometres inland!
Seals are resilient wild animals
DOC takes a “hands off” approach to seals. We often get criticised for not intervening but we know that seals are capable and resilient – if we give them time and space they usually find their own way home.
The Kaikoura colony is a great example of this species’ resilience. During the November 2016 earthquake, their colony was all but buried. True to nature, the seals took stock of their situation and moved into other, more suitable habitat along the coast. From what we can see from aerial monitoring they are adjusting well to the major disturbance.
There are exceptions of course – if one is found in immediate danger, tangled in debris or causing disruption such as sunbathing in the middle of a road, DOC will intervene.
If you see a seal that’s in serious trouble…
1) Is it in danger? Call 0800 DOC HOT.
If you come across a seal that you think is in danger, the best thing to do is give us a call on 0800 DOC HOT. We have people trained in marine mammal response who can determine what the best course of action is.
2) Never attempt to handle a seal yourself, or move it from its location.
They are wild animals and while they may look cute and cuddly they can be very aggressive when threatened. We advise to stay at least 20 metres away at all times. Handling can also be very stressful for the animal, and moving very young pups away from where the mother has left it makes it very difficult for them to reunite. If you are worried about the seal please take a photo from a safe distance and give us a call.
Someone once picked up a young pup from a South Island shore and took it on the ferry to the vet on the North Island. Sadly, this animal had to be put down because it was too young to survive on its own and its mother would never be able to reunite with it.
3) If you’re unsure, call us.
In New Zealand we are so lucky to have passionate and caring people who want to help our wildlife in any way they can. If you come across a seal in a strange place ask yourself:
• Is the seal away from a waterway where it might find it’s way back to the sea?
• Is injured or in immediate danger?
• Is it being harassed by people, dogs or something else?
If you answered yes to these questions then please give us a call, if you are unsure, grab a photo and give us a call and we can help out, though sometimes the best help we can give is to leave them be.