DoC is warning people to keep an eye out for fur seals – such as this one at Whangārei Town Basin – as seal silly season, when the mammals come ashore for winter, is in full swing
Seal silly season is in full swing in Northland, with people urged to keep an eye out for the marine mammals after two fur seals/kekeno had to be removed from a main road in Whangārei.
The Department of Conservation said winter is fur seal silly season, when the mammals come ashore.
Fur seals are a regular sight across Northland, with the most recent case seeing moved from Whangārei Heads Rd last week after concerned members of the public raised the sighting with DoC.
There had also been a case where a fur seal found near Okara shops was taken in a shopping trolley to be released into the nearby river. DoC says that’s not the way to deal with seals.
Fur seals are often seen resting up around Whangārei Town Basin and along the coast at this time of year, but DoC warns that they should not be approached as they could be dangerous if they feel threatened.
Just last week a fur seal with a cord tangled around its flippers washed up dead on Baylys Beach, near Dargaville.
People enjoying Northland’s coastlines are being urged to admire NZ fur seals/kekeno from a safe distance, as the mammals come ashore for winter.
Reports are flooding in from around the country of adventurous seals turning up in unusual areas, DoC said.
“It’s that time of year again – seal silly season,” DoC Marine Science Advisor Laura Boren said.
“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 km swim from the sea, all the way up to Northland, where two seals were recently moved off the main road in Whangārei,” says Laura Boren.
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, 90km inland.
Boren said people may feel concerned seeing young pups alone, or seals regurgitating, sneezing, coughing or crying.
“This is all part of their normal behavior, 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,” Boren said.
“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 at this time of year, when you can come across seals in unexpected places.”
Safety guidelines when watching seals:
■ stay at least 20m away
■ don’t disturb seals by making loud noises or throwing things
■ keep dogs and children away
■ don’t feed the seals
■ never attempt to touch a seal.
The following are all natural behaviors 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
■ pups spending time away from their mothers.
When we need to intervene:
There are exceptions to the above and DOC will intervene if a seal is:
■ in notably poor condition
■ in immediate danger
■ tangled in debris
■ causing disruption, eg in the middle of a road
■ being harassed.
What to do if you’re concerned
Ask: is the seal in danger, injured or being harassed by people or dogs?
If so, call the 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.