‘Silly season’ for seals as DOC calls for sightings…even miles inland
It’s seal season, according to a Department of Conservation expert who studies New Zealand’s curious marine mammal – and just at the right time, one caused a stir 90km inland lands.
There have been a number of sightings of kekeno or New Zealand fur seals in bizarre locations such as Waikato’s famous Hobbiton film set, a Thames highway and over the past couple of weeks the Hotel Okoroire Hot Springs in downtown Waikato.
The hotel and its hot springs, nearly 100km inland up the Waihou River from the Thames, have over the years become something of a regular seal haunt with a succession of seals taking to the enclosures greens of cow country.
Marine science adviser for the DOC, Laura Boren is part of the team investigating the expansion of the seal population and says random sightings have become more regular between May and October or the “silly season”.
* Rising seal sightings around mainland New Zealand indicate the population is growing
* The weird and wonderful places sea mammals roam in New Zealand
* A friendly seal joins hobbits and elves for a piece of the action in Hobbiton
* ‘What the hell are you doing?’ Seal stops traffic on the Coromandel Highway
“Every winter we go through what DOC calls ‘silly seal season’ and that’s really just part of the seal life cycle,” Boren said.
“During winter and spring, any non-breeding animal can move anywhere, and it will just go wherever it finds food and a good place to rest.
“We generally have a lot of interest in seals during this period, especially because the population has increased, their numbers are now really increasing in areas where we have a higher human population.”
But the DOC says breeding and rapidly expanding numbers meant the kekeno population grew to such a size that it was time to take a closer look at their breeding habits.
Since the early 1800s, seal colonies have grown exponentially after losses from early sealing by Maori and early European settlers rebounded.
Seal colonies and kekeno seals have since spread from the South Island further north. But there is a knowledge gap when it comes to kekeno breeding and non-breeding sites.
Although it has been spotted in the Thames/Coromandel area, the DOC says there are no known colonies in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park (which includes Coromandel).
And, the rapid increase in numbers means that sightings of dead seals on the North Island are also more frequent.
“The problem we have is that because the population has increased, and we don’t know the number of fur seals in that area, and we also don’t know where the nearest breeding colonies are and what is the size of these breeding colonies. I don’t know if that number is normal or not,” Boren said.
“This work is twofold in that we want to get reports of dead seals…the other side of the job is also to get reports of live seals so we know where they are, where they might pop up .”
The DOC is therefore calling on the public to participate by reporting sightings of kekeno seals around the Hauraki Gulf and Coromandel region over the next three months.
The citizen research project will help better monitor the population of kekeno seal colonies.
“The point of this is really to get a good understanding of the population in the Mercury Bay area but also the broader Hauraki Gulf Marine Park area,” Boren said.
“This is an opportunity for the public to contribute to the science of one of our most visible and interesting marine mammal species.”
Joe Davis, kaumātua for Mercury Bay iwi Ngāti Hei, said mana whenua supports the project and his intention to learn more about kekeno.
“We echo the DOC’s call for our community to appreciate seals from a distance and not get too close to these mammals,” Davis said.
Residents of the Hauraki Gulf and Coromandel can report sightings (alive or dead) of kekeno via information or photos to [email protected]