With seal season approaching, the Department of Conservation (DOC) is reminding people to leave kekeno/seal pups alone if they see them on shore.
Kekeno have already been spotted by DOC rangers this year, at several places in Hawke's Bay.
From now until around September, there will be an influx of kekeno pups and juveniles appearing on land as they begin to wean from their mothers.
These animals can wander as far as 15 kilometres inland, often by following rivers and streams. They can appear in unusual places such as a paddock, the roadside or an inner-city street. This is normal, due to their exploratory nature.
These kekeno may look distressed and scrawny, and they may sneeze, cough and have weepy eyes, but this is natural for them and they do not need human intervention.
Most will return to the water and swim away when they are rested and ready to go.
DOC Hawke's Bay Operations Manager Connie Norgate said not all of the seal pups make it, which is sad, but this is part of the natural world we live in.
"Although it can be tempting to help, human interaction is detrimental to their development."
DOC takes a 'hands off' approach to seals, because kekeno are capable, resilient and if given time and space they usually find their way home.
There are exceptions to this hands-off rule. DOC rangers will intervene, if the kekeno is in notably poor condition, immediate danger, tangled in debris, causing disruption or being harassed by people or dogs.
Norgate said people should stay at least 20 metres away from kekeno and should not disturb them by making loud noises or throwing things.
"Kekeno are wild animals and will defend themselves if they feel threatened and adult kekeno can move surprisingly quickly on land. While they can look harmless, kekeno can inflict serious injuries to dogs or people and can carry infectious diseases," she said.
It is also important for dog owners to keep their pets under control at all times when around seals. Please keep an eye out, especially in off-leash areas, as kekeno share these spaces.
It is an offence under the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978 to disturb, harass, harm, injure or kill a seal. A dog owner whose dog attacks a seal could face prosecution.
If people are concerned about a seal they see, ask: is the seal in danger, injured or being harassed by people or dogs. If so, call our emergency hotline 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468).