People visiting Waikato coastlines are being urged to keep well clear of seals (kekeno) coming ashore during winter, says the Department of Conservation (DoC).
Between May and September, young seals, newly weaned pups and male seals of any age can be spotted on New Zealand's beaches as they leave their breeding colonies to explore and rest.
Seals are often found on rocky shores, but they are curious and exploratory by nature and can often be seen in unusual places as they occasionally travel up rivers more than 15km inland.
Department of Conservation biodiversity ranger Cara Hansen says reports of seals have been coming in hot at the DoC Waikato District Office.
"You'll likely see them in their natural coastal habitats like Aotea Harbour, Kawhia, Whaingaroa/Raglan and the Hauraki Gulf, but don't be surprised if you see them waddling a little further afield.
"So far we've had reports of a seal on a whitebait stand which travelled 15km to Elbow Reserve from Port Waikato, one that swam up the river to Okoroire from the Hauraki Gulf, and one at the Mercer boat ramp."
Last week a seal was found several kilometres inland on SH25 near Thames. Although it's exciting to see, it's important to remember this is part of the seals' normal behaviour, and they are really resilient animals.
Hansen says: "Some seals may display behaviours which might make it appear as if they are injured or unwell. Sneezing, coughing and crying are all normal seal behaviours. Pups may also be left alone for days at a time while their mother forages at sea."
Seals are well adapted to life in the sea and along the rocky shoreline and have a thick layer of fur and blubber to keep them comfortable in this environment. These animals are also very clever and have the potential to become accustomed to humans and handouts very easily, prohibiting them from returning to a normal life at sea.
"DoC has a hands-off approach with seals and will only intervene if the animal is in obvious danger such as getting too close to a road and disrupting traffic, tangled in debris, being harassed at a public beach or is seriously injured. Watch and enjoy seals from a distance and follow the guidelines for when to call DoC."
It is a breach of the Marine Mammals Protection Act to touch or handle a seal, apart from that, seals can be very aggressive if threatened. If possible, people should keep a distance of at least 20 metres from seals 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 the seal.
If you see a seal which is severely injured, being harassed, or in obvious danger, call 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468).