Spotting New Zealand Fur Seals this Winter

Once nearly hunted to the brink of extinction, nowadays, New Zealand fur seals (kekeno) can be seen around the country’s coastline much to the delight of tourists and locals alike. 

During the Winter, fur seals come ashore during the “haul out” phase of their annual cycle which generally leads to more public sightings and concerns. Here’s what you need to know in case you see a fur seal this Winter…

On the land

Fur seals haul out on the shore more often and for longer periods during the winter in order to save energy and build up fat to:

a) protect themselves from the cooler winter water temperatures

b) prepare themselves for the upcoming breeding season in the summer

Depending on where you are in the country, you may see them hauled out in large numbers where in other places they may be hauled out alone. On the east coast of Auckland there are no colonies so seals are usually hauled out by themselves. 

For young fur seals that were born the previous summer, they will be spending an increasing amount of time alone as their mothers take longer foraging trips at sea just before they are weaned at 9-12 months of age. Therefore, during the Winter, it is common to see juvenile fur seals left alone for long periods of time.

Once weaned, the pup can look a little lonely and lost as it learns how to make its own way in the world. However they are hardy animals and are quite capable of being alone in fact, some studies have shown that juveniles can be found alone over 1,000km away from their birthplace!

At Sea

You may see a fur seal holding its back flipper out of the water with its front flipper in a behaviour affectionately known as ‘jugging’ (because they look like the handle of a jug!). The fur seal does this to maintain a warm body temperature in the cooler surrounding water by keeping some of its body parts dry.

When a seal looks like it is waving, it can be doing the same thing in trying to keep some of its body parts dry or, if paired with rapid body movements in and out of the water, may be having a clean or feeding.

Both of these behaviours can be easily mistaken as a cry for help from the animal but are quite normal. However, if the animal is visibly distressed e.g is rolling around because it is entangled in debris, then this requires action (see below).

Seen a seal?

Seals are hardy and capable animals. However, if you do see a seal that is visibly injured, entangled in debris, is in danger or is being harassed by humans or dogs, then you should give the Department of Conservation a call on 0800 DOC HOT where they can then assess the situation via the details you give and from there, decide on the best course of action.

Normal behaviour on land includes:

  • sneezing
  • crying
  • coughing
  • fighting
  • not moving (but still breathing)
  • being alone

Remember to stay at least 20m away and do not touch or try to move the seal yourself! 

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