At first they were just avoiding rough seas or hanging around a safe place after letting go of mum's apron strings, but now they're often hungry, emaciated and sick.

The many reports of newly weaned fur seals spotted by beachgoers and harboursiders across Northland this winter has Department of Conservation rangers reminding people there is nothing unusual about the sight and to stay clear of them.

It's common for pups, aged nine or 10 months, to hang around beaches and harbours while they learn to make it on their own. It's also normal for them to get a bit thin until they master fishing.

But, after a long, hard winter, DoC has had reports of skinny, sick or dead seals.

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In Northland, the mortality rate isn't high enough to cause alarm, but in southern regions there have been many deaths, most at large colonies. This could be because of competition for food and prey availability.

Meanwhile, strict guidelines and laws apply when people come across seals on shore.

Unless a seal is being harassed by dogs or people, is entangled in marine debris, is severely injured, or may pose a risk to itself or to people, DoC's message is to leave it alone.

Sightings of high numbers of thin or dead seals can be made to the DoC hotline 0800 362 468.