Although seals are marine mammals, they spend a lot of time on land, particularly between July and November. They can sometimes show up in places you might not expect, occasionally following rivers upstream. Rough weather conditions can also encourage them to seek shelter on shore.
DOC Whanganui Senior Biodiversity Ranger Sara Treadgold says even though people may be concerned, this behaviour is normal.
“We receive calls from the public each year from people concerned about a seal they’ve seen. While the Department appreciates the community’s help, in most cases the seal is fit and well,” she says.
“Seals on land sometimes cough or sneeze, and often have weepy eyes. They also enjoy drifting in the surf or lazing on the beach, which are completely natural behaviours. They will return to the sea when they are rested and ready to go.
“Inquisitive seals have been known to travel as far as 10 kilometres inland, up rivers. They can appear in unusual places, such as a paddock, roadside or an inner-city street. This is a normal exploratory behaviour. Baby seals are often left onshore while the mother feeds out at sea.”
Baby seals should never be moved unless in immediate danger, as mothers may abandon pups if they can’t find them when they return.
“Seals are capable and resilient and given time and space; they usually find their way home.
“It’s important to keep dogs away from seals. Dogs can attack seals and if threatened a seal can injure and pass on diseases to dogs or people.
“It’s also important to remember these are wild animals and shouldn’t be approached. They have sharp teeth and can move quickly if they feel threatened. Keep your distance, at least 20 metres.”
“And it’s not just fur seals,” Sara adds.
“We do sometimes see other marine mammals like leopard seals on our coastline, which is pretty special. The same guidelines apply for them – give them space and let them rest.”
DOC has a hands-off policy with seals and will only intervene if a seal is severely injured, entangled in marine debris, or is in a dangerous place such as a public road. On the occasion where DOC does need to intervene, Sara Treadgold says it’s important for the public leave this to DOC as rangers are experienced in their response.