A West Auckland woman was left in disbelief after the Department of Conservation said it couldn't help a sick baby seal that emerged from a dirty Henderson waterway on Saturday.
But DoC said many people mistook normal seal behaviour as distress, especially this time of year.
Monique Turner was walking through Tui Glen Reserve on Saturday with her partner and friend when they saw a baby seal pull itself out of the "filthy" Henderson Creek and onto the dock.
The seal, about the size of a cocker spaniel, seemed to be in a "very poor" condition and Ms Turner feared it wouldn't survive the night.
When she called DoC, she was told there wasn't anything it could do.
"Their issue was, if it wasn't bleeding or missing a limb, they wouldn't do anything. I was trying to explain to them - it emerged from the dirtiest water you could ever see, there were plastic bags swimming in the water, it didn't look healthy," she said.
DoC then told her it would be dealt with on Monday, she said.
Ms Turner spent another hour making calls to DoC, Auckland Council, Fisheries and the SPCA, which didn't have the resources to deal with seals.
She was told that the issue ultimately lay with DoC.
"I wish that I could've picked it up myself and taken it somewhere, but I didn't want to do more damage than good."
DoC spokesman Nick Hirst said July to November was a migratory period in which young seals often popped up in strange places.
"We are getting calls of this nature all the time [but] the vast majority don't need our help.
"People see seals and automatically presume they're in bad shape because often they look like they've got the flu ... but that's just normal seal behaviour."
When seals got to about a year old, they had broken away from their parents but were too young to breed, so were "out there on their own", he said.
"If it's not in obvious distress, clearly injured or at risk ... we tend to let it look after itself. It's all part of survival of the fittest."
Mr Hirst wasn't sure how polluted Henderson Creek was, but didn't believe it would be toxic enough to kill the mammal.
The apparent contradiction of DoC saying it would take action on Monday was probably a "miscommunication", Mr Hirst said.
Normal seal behaviour people sometimes mistake for signs of distress
* Most seals reported as injured or sick are simply resting.
* Regurgitating, sneezing or coughing is normal behaviour for seals
* Seals can appear to be "crying", but these are natural moisture secretions
* Young seals commonly spend time alone away from their mothers for days at a time.
* Seals often drift in the waves
* Seals often flap their flippers in the air as if stranded