More about the young fur seal that visited Buffalo Beach

27 Jul 2021

The arrival of a young seal in downtown Whitianga signals the seasonal emergence of a curious and exploratory species, says the Department of Conservation.

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

Seals/kekeno are most often found on rocky shores, but are curious and exploratory by nature and can be seen all around the coast in unusual places. They are surprisingly agile and can climb to great heights among the rocks or up to 15km inland. 

Whitianga had a visit from a young fur seal who was seen resting on the rock wall at Buffalo Beach over the weekend. 

“The young seal was likely to have recently been weaned and was sheltering from the rough sea and weather conditions,” says James Blackmore, Marine Ranger at DOC Whitianga. “We understand the public interest and concern, it’s not often we get to see these charismatic creatures in Whitianga. The seal may have looked skinny, but this is normal for pups of this age as they are still learning to find food on their own. It’s important to remember seals are wild animals that need their space, and respect.” 

The adventurous seal made its way into town on Sunday night, and was found outside Buffalo Beach Takeaways on Monday morning. DOC rangers relocated the seal to a safe location away from cars, people and dogs. 

Seals are well adapted for life in the sea and along the rocky shoreline, as they have a thick layer of blubber to keep them comfortable in this environment. These animals are also very clever and have the potential to become accustomed to humans and handouts easily, prohibiting them from returning to a normal life at sea.

DOC takes a hands-off approach with seals and will only intervene if the animal is in obvious danger, seriously injured, tangled in debris or being harassed at a public beach. In the case of the Whitianga visitor, DOC only intervened once the seal had moved away from its familiar rocky shore habitat. The seal would have had to cross a busy road in the daytime to get back to the ocean on its own.   

Sneezing, coughing and weeping eyes are all normal seal behaviours. Pups may be left alone for days at a time while their mothers forage for food. 

DOC’s advice is to never touch or handle a seal as they can become very aggressive if threatened. They carry infectious bacteria which is very harmful to humans. It is also a breach of the Marine Mammals Protection Act. People should keep a distance of at least 20m from seals and not get between the seal and the sea. 

“If you are walking your dog in areas where seals regularly haul out or see a seal on the beach, put our dog on a lead,” says James. 

If you see a seal which is severely injured, being harassed or in obvious danger, call 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468).

Pictured: The young seal resting on the rocks at Buffalo Beach earlier this week.