Busy seal season comes with warning

Author
Gavin Ogden, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 16 Sep 2021, 11:56AM

Busy seal season comes with warning

Author
Gavin Ogden, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 16 Sep 2021, 11:56AM

Social media has been inundated recently with images of seals relaxing along Pāpāmoa Beach.

From Mauao to Mōtītī, it seems they're everywhere.

"I think it has been a busy season for seals this season," Nathan Pettigrew, local marine conservationist and Department of Conservation volunteer said.

"Sometimes we get seasons where we might get a few animals, other times we'll get quite a few.

"I think it's a combination of the fact that there are more seals this year but there are also a lot more people out on the beaches at the moment with lockdown – more people are at home and getting out to exercise at the beach."

But all this extra attention has prompted the Department of Conservation to remind beachgoers that seals are wild animals and should never be approached.

"People need to be vigilant. Don't expect to go to the beach and not see a seal because there's quite a few around at the moment and there is a chance you'll come across one.

"Once you get to the beach just have a look around first, scan the area and then carry on with your walk.

"If you see something that looks like it may be a seal, even if it's a log, just keep an eye on it and keep some distance. The rule is 20m, so if you cannot get closer than that, that would be fantastic. Give the animals a wide berth and try not to get between the seal and the ocean because if the seal wants to make a go for it and take off – that's where it's going to go."

But seals can be harder to spot than you might think.

"They're often around debris. So if we get a lot of logs or sticks washed up on the beach, they can be in amongst that. Again, don't take it for granted that there's not going to be a seal there."

While humans are mostly well-behaved towards seals, our dogs pose a big risk, especially when they're off a leash.

"Dogs can be a real problem, especially for seal pups," Pettigrew said.

"We need to have more dogs on leads if we think there are seals in the area. Again, have a good scan, let the dog off for a little bit if need be, but if you think you see something in the distance, or there are people who have stopped to look at something, put your dog on a lead. It just keeps them safe and it's not worth the risk."

After being hunted to near extinction, seal numbers are on the rise around New Zealand.

"Pre-Māori there used to be about 2.5 million seals around the NZ coastline. Māori turned up and used them as a food source, so that dropped the numbers a little bit. Then Europeans came and hunted them for fur and oil. The numbers went from 2.5 million to about 10,000, so they were hunted pretty heavily.

"The last legal hunt for the NZ fur seal was about 1946 and since then the numbers have started bouncing back. Obviously, protection has kicked in and so we're starting to see more of them.

"I moved back here to the Mount in 1990 and you didn't see seals anywhere. But now we're starting to see more and more each year."

Should you spot a seal in distress, Pettigrew said the advice was to call the Department of Conservation rather than approach it yourself.

"People do need to be vigilant and aware that they're a wild animal and do have the potential to be dangerous," he said.