Beachgoers around the country are being urged to admire NZ fur seal/kekeno from a safe distance, as the mammals come ashore for the winter.
Young seals, including newly weaned pups, and males of any age, leave their breeding colonies between May and September to explore and rest. They are most often found on rocky shores, but are curious and exploratory by nature, and can turn up in all sorts of unusual places, occasionally travelling up rivers or as far as 15km inland.
Laura Boren, senior adviser for the Department of Conservation, issued a reminder last week, however, that while they were "very charismatic," they were wild animals and should be treated with respect.
"It's really exciting that fur seals are doing well, and this time of year provides for some unique and special encounters with them, but it's important to remember this is all part of their normal behaviour, and they are really resilient animals. Watch and enjoy them from a distance, and follow our guidelines for when to call DOC," she said.
Seals were well adapted to life in the sea and along the rocky shoreline, and had a thick layer of fur and blubber to keep them comfortable in that environment. They were also very clever, and had the potential to become accustomed to humans and handouts very easily, prohibiting them from returning to a normal life at sea.
DOC had a hands-off approach with seals, and would only intervene if an animal was in obvious danger, such as getting too close to a road, tangled in debris, being harassed at a public beach or was seriously injured.
Sneezing, coughing and crying were all normal seal behaviours, and pups may be left alone for days at a time while their mothers foraged at sea.
DOC's advice was to never touch or handle a seal, as they could be very aggressive if threatened. It was also a breach of the Marine Mammals Protection Act. People should keep a distance of at least 20 metres, if possible, and not get between the seal and the sea.
"If you are walking your dog in areas where seals regularly haul out, or see a seal on your beach, put your dog on a lead until you are away from it," Boren said.
"If you see a seal that is severely injured, being harassed or in obvious danger, call 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468)."
The NZ fur seal has made a remarkable recovery since the species was hunted, some experts estimating the population fell as low as 10,000. The last count in 2001 estimated a total population of 200,000, which is believed to have increased considerably since then.
"This population rebound is something to be celebrated, but it does mean we will need to adjust to having more kekeno in our lives, on our beaches and near our cities," Laura Boren said.