An influx of fur seals turning up on Whanganui beaches has prompted the Department of Conservation to urge beachgoers to give them space and leave them be.
Between July and November each year there is a spike in adolescent seals and newly weaned seal pups appearing on shores and at times further inland.
DoC's Whanganui senior biodiversity ranger, Sara Treadgold, is asking people to be mindful of the seals when walking along Kai Iwi, Castlecliff and South Beach.
She said seals took time to rest on the beach before heading out to sea in search of food and did not need help from beachgoers.
At time mums may leave their pups for short periods of time and pups may go exploring during this time.
"Inquisitive seals have been known to travel as far as 10km inland, up streams," Treadgold said.
"They can appear in unusual places, such as a paddock, roadside or an inner-city street. This is a normal occurrence from exploratory behaviour," Treadgold said.
Seals can appear distressed and scrawny, displaying signs of coughing and sneezing with weepy eyes but DoC said this was natural and that they would return to the water and swim away when rested.
"Seals are capable and resilient and given time and space they usually find their way home," Treadgold said.
It is important to keep dogs away from seals as dogs can attack and if in direct contact with seals they could potentially pass on infectious diseases.
Other seal species, including the leopard seal, can also turn up on beaches, Treadgold said.
"Leopard seals are very large animals, they could easily crush a person simply by rolling over and can move surprisingly quickly on land.
"Although they have small teeth, they are capable of penetrating another seal's skin and can inflict a serious wound on humans," Treadgold said.
The hands-off policy DoC follows only gives it cause to intervene with a seal if it is in a dangerous place such as near a public road, is obviously severely injured or is entangled in marine debris.
Under the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978, it is an offence to disturb, harass, harm, injure or kill a seal.
If a dog attacks a seal, the dog owner could face prosecution.
If people encounter a seal on or near a beach, they should:
• Leave it to rest
• Always keep dogs on a leash, under control and away from seals
• Ensure small children are kept at a safe distance and under control when watching seals
• Stay at least 20 metres away
• Make sure not to get between the seal and the sea
*Do not touch or feed the seal