He's big and it's debatable whether he's beautiful but a summer visitor to the Eastern Bay is drawing huge crowds.

First seen at Matatā earlier this week, the elephant seal showed at Coastlands Beach on Sunday and was photographed frolicking in the surf and lazing on the beach.

On Thursday about 12pm he thrust himself from the Whakatāne River on to the bank,
surprising a number of people walking along the Warren Cole walkway, in the process.

An elephant seal basks beside a parked car in Whakatane. The visiting giant has been delight locals and holidaymakers alike. Photo / Neil Robert Hutton
An elephant seal basks beside a parked car in Whakatane. The visiting giant has been delight locals and holidaymakers alike. Photo / Neil Robert Hutton

Sharon Honatana watched the elephant seal move from the water's edge to the back of a property adjacent to the river.

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"He moved really quickly which was quite surprising considering his size," Honatana said.

"I think he gave a few people a bit of a fright."

Department of Conservation (DOC) ranger Mithuna Sothieson said the elephant seal may have felt threatened by the number of people on the riverbank when it bolted.

It was shepherded back to the water by another DOC ranger.

Today the seal was entertaining crowds of up to 100 people outside the Whakatāne Yacht Club.

Puti Koopu was with about 60 others at the water's edge.

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"We've got a very special visitor to our river and I, for one, am humbled he has made Whakatāne his home for now," Koopu said.

"Today he was just gliding around looking for shade. A bit like how I feel when the temperature is at its highest."

Sothieson said the elephant seal had been identified as a male and while not an adult, was not young either.

"We can estimate his age by the length of his snout," Sothieson said. "He's definitely up there in size but does not have a fully-developed snout."

The elephant seal does not have a fully developed snout. Photo / Supplied
The elephant seal does not have a fully developed snout. Photo / Supplied

She said about the same time last year, a female elephant seal appeared near the Ohiwa Holiday Park and hung around for three or four weeks.

"It's a bit hard to guess how long he'll stay but people should enjoy him while he's here."

Sothieson reminded people it was an offence to get within 25 metres of an elephant seal.

"People need to respect him and give him his space. Elephant seals are a protected marine animal and can pose a risk to life."

She urged dog owners to keep their animals away from the seal.

"Dogs are attracted by the smell of seals but can easily be killed by an aggressive elephant seal."

The seal in Whakatāne has been described as very healthy by DOC staff and it is expected he will make an effort to return to his sub-Antarctic home at some point.