DOC Biodiversity Ranger Rod Hansen says while kekeno can often be spotted resting on Hawke’s Bay beaches, more are being seen this season than in previous years.
“This is a promising sign for kekeno, and for Hawke’s Bay. It indicates kekeno numbers are growing throughout the country,”
Historically common in the region, fur seals all but vanished from local shores when the species was pushed to the brink of extinction last century. The population is now in recovery.
Most of the kekeno on the Hawke’s Bay coast are migrating from more southern populations, like Cape Palliser and the top of the South Island.
“Our latest visitors include a group who’ve been spending the colder months at one spot along the Napier coastline.”
The group of seals has been drawing some local attention, including speculation this could be a pre-cursor to a breeding colony.
“Seals often ‘haul-out’ on shore over winter months, so it’s not surprising they’ve chosen sunny Hawke’s Bay to hang out. There is a possibility they could be here for the longer haul, but we really can’t be sure just yet.”
Haul-out spots usually attract higher numbers of males and juveniles over winter, with numbers decreasing in summer. In a breeding colony, numbers tend to increase instead.
“We’ll be monitoring the seals at this site over the next few months, which will indicate the likelihood of a new breeding colony forming. If it looks like the seals are settling in, we’ll think about the best ways to help ensure their safety.”
DOC is reminding beachgoers to give the seals space.
“They’ve picked themselves a very public location! It’s a popular site for people to stroll or take their dogs for a walk.
It’s important to remember seals are wild animals. They need space, and they will defend themselves if they feel threatened.
We ask everyone to please be respectful of seals, and recognise what a compliment it is that these kekeno have chosen this spot. Kia tau te Aio mō ngā kekeno, be respectful to the seals.
People should always keep at least 20 m distance and avoid getting between seals and the sea. It’s also important not to feed them as this can be detrimental to their ability to survive in the wild, as well as put people at risk.
We also ask people to remember dogs are only permitted to be in the area on a lead. We recommend while the seals are here people find another place to walk their dogs, like other regional parks in the area.”
DOC has put up signage to inform visitors to the area about the seals and provide more information about kekeno.
It is an offence under the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978 to disturb, harass, harm, injure or kill a seal. A dog owner whose dog attacks a seal could face prosecution.
If people are concerned that a seal is in danger, injured or being harassed by people or dogs, they can call DOC’s emergency hotline 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468).