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Eyes peeled for coastal fur seals

The Department of Conservation is reminding people to keep an eye out for fur seals on coastlines and coastal roads.

Between May and September, young kekeno [seals] and male seals of any age can be spotted as they leave their breeding colonies, explore, and rest. This includes newly weaned pups finding their way in the world.

“Fur seal populations are recovering quickly,” said marine science advisor Laura Boren.

“This means people need to be prepared to encounter seals anywhere around our coastline, even in areas where they haven’t seen seals before, and particularly over the winter months.”

Last year, Boren said Cape Palliser’s seal colony had anywhere between 500 and 1000 pups.

In 2021, a seal made its way onto a Kahutara farm 36km northeast of Palliser Bay.

Farmer Hayden Rowe found the seal in a paddock at his Hikunui Rd property and captured a video before the seal waddled down to the Ruamahanga River.

Although kekeno are marine mammals, they spend much of their time resting and basking in the sun on land.

They are most often found on rocky shores, although they are curious and exploratory by nature and are frequently spotted inland, Boren said.

One way for people to help keep kekeno safe during this season is to keep dogs under control. Dogs harassing seals is a year-round issue, but particularly at this time of year, and dog owners are advised to keep a toy and lead with them to distract or restrain their pet.

“Our hotline staff frequently receive calls about dogs harassing and attacking seals,” Boren said. “And what is reported is only a fraction of what actually occurs.”

People should keep an eye peeled for the furry mammals, Boren said: “Scan for wildlife – a sleeping seal can look a lot like driftwood.”

She also recommended people warn others if they spot a seal.

Kekeno can exhibit “strange behaviours” when hauled up on land, she explained.

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.

If you see a seal that is severely injured, being harassed, or in obvious danger, call 0800 DOC HOT.

Grace Prior
Grace Prior
Grace Prior is a senior reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with a keen interest in environmental issues. Grace is the paper’s health reporter and regularly covers the rural sector, weather, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and coastal stories.

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