Archives For seals

Seals – they’re charismatic creatures that are currently experiencing a population comeback. Find out how we can live alongside seals in harmony, and why it’s sometimes important to let them be.

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Don’t get too close! It’s no laughing matter…

Today’s photo—of penguins observing a leopard seal in Antarctica—gives us our prompt to remind you to take care when in the vicinity of seals and sea lions.

Leopard seal. Photo: ravas51 | flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0.

Around this time of the year, leopard seals can come to rest on shore.

Over the past week two leopard seals have been spotted on New Zealand beaches.

This is a rare treat, but also no cause for alarm—they are generally not in trouble and don’t need help.

“Leopard seals usually have weepy eyes, snotty noses, and look thin, and this is quite normal. The only concern would be if they had a large wound or were entangled in something,” says DOC ranger Steve Harraway.

Although charismatic, leopard seals are wild animals and should be treated with respect. Keep in mind that these animals are very large, with powerful jaws, and can be unpredictable.

Below are some simple guidelines to follow when watching seals and sea lions so as not to compromise your safety or that of the animals:

  • Always stay at least 20 metres from seals. Allow them space if they are active.
  • Do not disturb seals. Don’t make loud noises or throw objects in their vicinity.
  • Always keep dogs and small children under control and away from seals.
  • Never attempt to touch or handle a seal. They can be aggressive if threatened.
  • You can also catch diseases from seals through their skin, sneezes, coughs and barks, and you may also carry diseases that can transfer to them and make them ill.
  • Do not feed any seal.

If you see a leopard seal you should call your local DOC office or 0800DOCHOT—particularly if you see someone harassing one. It is an offence under the Marine Mammals Protection Act to injure, harass or disturb a marine mammal.

Photo: ravas51 | flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0


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Come behind the scenes and into the jobs, the challenges, the highlights, and the personalities of the people who work at the Department of Conservation (DOC).

Today we profile Chloe Corne, Conservation Services Ranger, Fiordland

Chloe Corne restraining a feisty fur seal pup on Breaksea Island.

Restraining a feisty fur seal pup on Breaksea Island

At work

Some things I do in my job include monitoring the populations of Fiordland bottlenose dolphins in Dusky and Doubtful Sounds in conjunction with Otago University.

These dolphins are unique, as they are the southernmost population of this species of dolphin, and have several unique morphological, behavioural and acoustic characteristics. They are also suffering from a number of potential threats.

Dolphins in Doubtful Sound. Photo: Rich Levine | flickr | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Dolphins in Doubtful Sound

Part of my job is to monitor compliance with the Code of Management that was put into place in Doubtful Sound complex to regulate interactions with marine mammals.

I will also participate in biodiversity monitoring in the Fiordland Marine Area, Undaria (Japanese kelp) eradication in Breaksea Sound, and freshwater monitoring and advocacy.

This helps achieve DOC’s vision by working to catalogue and monitor the biodiversity and biosecurity of Fiordland Marine Area, so that appropriate sustainable management strategies can be applied.

The best bit about my job is the enormous potential for growing marine conservation. So much is still unknown about our oceans and the biodiversity that inhabits it.

My job already has an amazing amount of variety and I’ve only been here for a few weeks! I’m very excited to see what the future holds.

Young Fiordland fur seal. Photo: Andrea Schaffer | flickr | CC BY 2.0

Young fur seal, Fiordland

The most exciting DOC moment I’ve had so far is assisting a PhD thesis with collecting DNA samples from the southern fur seal population in order to assess the recolonisation pattern and gene flow of fur seal populations after the sealing era.

Not only has this not been attempted for the Fiordland rookeries thus far, the rookery we collected samples from was the pest-free Breaksea Island.

It felt like saddleback and robins were everywhere along the shoreline as we collected our tiny skin samples from the feisty fur seal pups, which were a lot harder to restrain than you would think!

The DOC (or previous DOC) employee that inspires or enthuses me most is Don Merton. While I never had the privilege to meet or work with him, Don’s achievements will be inspiring budding conservationists for years to come.

Don Merton holding kakapo "Richard Henry".

Don Merton holding kakapo “Richard Henry”

On a personal note…

If I could trade places with any other person for a week—famous or not famous, living or dead, real or fictional—it would be David Attenborough. Ideally he would be my grandfather.

My best ever holiday was in Mozambique. I could barely speak a word of Portuguese, and spent equal amounts of time avoiding dodgy looking characters and corrupt policemen alike.

Driving and navigation was an adventure with half the roads being 4WD tracks.

Bazaruto Archipelago, Mozambique. Photo: Richard Moross | flickr | CC BY 2.0

Bazaruto Archipelago, Mozambique

About halfway up the coastline is an oasis called the Bazaruto Archipelago, with islands made of huge sand dunes, the east African coast’s last viable population of dugongs and some of the most pristine coral I have ever seen. Bliss.

My secret indulgence is travel, travel and more travel. Although this isn’t much of a secret.

Left: Releasing a Hawksbill turtle. Right: Exploring the crooked alleyways of Lamu.

Left: Releasing a rehabilitated Hawksbill turtle, Watamu, Kenya
Right: Exploring the crooked alleyways of Lamu

If I wasn’t working at DOC, I’d like to be a National Geographic wildlife photographer. It’s nice to dream.

Before working at DOC I lived and worked for a year and a half on Wasini Island, off the tropical coast of Kenya.

As a staff member for Global Vision International I spent my days monitoring cetaceans and sea turtles in a 300 kilometre squared study area, and snorkelling to gather in-water sea turtle habitat use data, and for coral and reef fish monitoring.

I originally went to Kenya for the dolphins, but ended up staying for the whales.

Photographing humpback whales off Mpunguti Marine Reserve, Kenya.

Photographing humpback whales off Mpunguti Marine Reserve, Kenya

Deep and meaningful…

My favourite quote is I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do. – Leonardo da Vinci.

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is to seize every opportunity that comes, as there is no guarantee that you will ever get that opportunity again.

In work and life I am motivated by others that have a really deep passion for something, and can communicate a bit of that passion to others.

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is there are so many amazing, fun opportunities out there to get involved in conservation projects. Have a look at some of them and I promise you will be inspired.

Question of the week

Who would you like to play you in a film about your life?

Charlize Theron – but it would be the most boring film ever!

By Laura Boren, Senior Technical Support Officer – Marine Mammals, Department of Conservation

Every winter there will be a few young NZ fur seals who find themselves in interesting places, often to the surprise and amusement of the people who stumble across them.

It’s a common occurrence – they are just coming ashore to rest and will move on in their own time.

This fur seal pup found a cosy position by a spa pool in the Marlborough Sounds community of Anakiwa. The exciting thing for me was that the spa pool belonged to friends of my family. So, on a Sunday afternoon I received an excited phone call from the Biggs family asking me what they should do.

Seal pup relaxing by the spa

“If it’s not interfering with anything just leave it,” I said.

“Enjoy it while it’s there – just give it some space because at this time of the year it might not be in great condition and will want to rest.

“It’ll leave when it’s ready,” I assured them.

Later that day I had an equally excited phone call from my parents. My father had been to see the seal pup and had taken several photos. From the photos we could confirm that it was one of this year’s pups, and was likely to have weaned early – seal pups usually wean around 10 months of age, but this one would only be about 7 months old.

So, the pup hung around for the afternoon, resting next to the warm spa pool and, just as suspected, the following morning was gone.

Read ‘Seal drops in for a spa’ story on www.stuff.co.nz

Watch a video on the DOC website about how the NZ fur seal is making a return from the brink of extinction

I was on stand-by duty over Labour Weekend.  We got a call to say there was a sick fur seal at Riversdale and I was provided with a name and phone number.  I gave the person a call but there was no answer so decided about 4.45pm that I would take a trip to go and investigate.

We get a few calls about NZ fur seals because there are so many on our coastline here in Wairarapa.  Cape Palliser has one of the few rookeries (where babies are born and spend their first 9 months) in the lower North Island and as numbers begin to grow the seals are appearing much further north in haul-out areas (places where they come to relax after a hard day’s swimming and eating).  Most calls don’t come to anything because people interpret seals chilling out in the sun as not being well but we still need to investigate.

Fur seal

Fur seal relaxing at Palliser Bay by Joe Hansen, DOC

This time, however, I did find a very sick looking seal on the beach.  He (I think it was a young male) was at the southern end of the beach.  As I approached in our DOC ute along the beach I was assessing the scene and noticed quads/motorcycles, dogs and people including animals quite close to it.  The site of the sick seal was in a patch of beach that was only about 15 metres wide but rather than give the seal some space everyone was walking within 5 metres of where he lay panting.

I parked up and took a look around and within seconds had reports from public that he’d been lying there for sometime without moving.  A group of 6 or so children (aged around 12) walked up and asked me some questions about seals and then while I was talking on the phone one picked up a stick and was about to start prodding it.  I was quite blown away that they could do something so mean to something so vulnerable but also who is a large mammal with sharp teeth.  I tried to retain my composure and asked them to walk away and leave it alone.

The seal was obviously unwell and was the skinniest I’ve seen so I knew it wasn’t going to survive and had the unfortunate task of deciding to put the seal down.  While I was away organising this the children returned and I felt really uncomfortable about leaving it alone so went back and parked the ute close to it.  The children had seen me coming and were sprinting away.

I’ve not been faced with this situation before where people were torturing an animal that obviously was struggling to breathe.  I actually felt quite sick and upset.  If that seal was well enough to respond they could have been in danger.

In our role at DOC we spend a lot of time talking about seals as they are a beautiful (yet smelly) creature that has a right to relax on our beaches and their numbers are growing more plentiful.  They would never intentionally hurt someone but are strong and fast and people need to beware.

Here are some other facts about being close to NZ fur seals and more information can be found on DOC’s website.

Rules for observing seals

  • Observe the seal quietly
  • Always keep dogs and small children well away from seals
  • Avoid getting nearer than 20 metres to the seal
  • Do not touch the seal under any circumstances
  • Do not get between the seal and its access to water
  • Do not feed the seal
Seals C Palliser Oct 09

Basking in the sun Oct 2009 by Joe Hansen