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Give dogs of the sea some space

The seal colony at Palliser Bay is coming ashore again for winter. PHOTO/GRACE PRIOR

Grace Prior

They may be the fluffy dogs of the ocean, but the Department of Conservation [DOC] is urging people to keep a distance from kekeno [fur seals] as they come ashore for winter.

Wairarapa’s Cape Palliser is prized for its large colony of seals, attracting hundreds of tourists annually.

But now, seals are turning up to visit us.

DOC marine science adviser Laura Boren said reports had been flooding in of seals turning up at unusual locations across the nation.

In Wairarapa last year, a seal made its way on to a Kahutara farm 36km northeast of Palliser Bay.

Farm owner Hayden Rowe spotted the seal in a paddock at his property on Hikunui Rd and captured a video before the seal waddled down to the Ruamahanga River.

Boren said the beginning of winter marked the “seal silly season”.

“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.”

Boren said seals often dispersed in stormy weather and were known to move away from the coastline to look for safety.

“If you are driving the Palliser Rd at night, please be aware seals could be on the road, and drive carefully.”

DOC said in New Zealand, seals were found on rocky shores around the mainland, Chatham Islands, and the subantarctic islands.

In New Zealand, breeding colonies could be found as far north as the Coromandel Peninsula and as far south as the subantarctic islands.

An informal survey undertaken in March showed Cape Palliser’s colony could have 500-1000 seal pups.

Boren said from May to September, young seals and male seals of any age could be spotted as they departed their breeding colonies to explore and rest.

The explorers included newly-weaned pups finding their way in the world.

Boren said the list of wandering seals included one showing up at the Hokitika Transfer Station, a swim of up to 4km from the sea.

She said although kekeno were marine mammals, they spent much of their time on land, resting and basking in the sun.

“They 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 might 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.”

Boren said people should only call the DOC hotline if the seals were in immediate danger – relaxing on a road, severely injured, or tangled in debris.

She said DOC would only intervene if the animal were in danger or a high-traffic urban area.

Keeping dogs under control was a critical way to protect kekeno this season.

Boren said dogs should be put on leads until they were far away from seals.

“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.”

She said dog and seal interactions were a year-round issue but increased when more seals came to shore in the winter.

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