People are being warned not to approach seals as the onset of winter brings more of the furry marine mammals ashore in Northland.

The Department of Conservation (DoC) gets many reports of seals during the winter months when rough sea conditions drive them onto the coast. In winter, it is normal for seals and sea lions to spend much of their time on land.

The public should not handle or approach seals as they can be aggressive and deliver nasty bites. Dogs in particular need to be restrained around them.

Sometimes seals appear to be severely injured but they can recover from quite serious wounds, a DoC spokeswoman said.

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They need to be left alone as a capture attempt could cause significantly more stress and harm to the animal. DoC's policy is based on minimum intervention.

"If the animal is in severe pain or distress due to its injuries, however, euthanasia may be the only option."

Under the Marine Mammals Act anyone finding a marine mammal that is severely injured, entangled in debris or being harassed by people or dogs, should call0800 DoC HOT (0800 362 468).

There are penalties of up to six months' imprisonment or a fine of up to $250,000 for killing or harming a fur seal or other marine mammal.

New Zealand fur seals are not threatened but the number is still recovering from intensive hunting in the early 1800s when an estimated two million were clubbed to death.