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You can help fur seal

New Zealand fur seal, Otago. Photo: Sam O'Leary.
New Zealand fur seal, Otago

Rules for observing seals / sea lions

Take care when in the vicinity of seals and sea lions. Although very charismatic, they are wild animals and should be treated with respect. In general seals and sea lions should be enjoyed from a distance without interference. Below are some simple guidelines that should be followed when watching sea lions so as not to compromise your safety or that of the animals. See also the Marine Mammals Protection Regulations Part 3 (external site).

  • Always stay at least 20 m from seals. Allow them space if they are active.
  • Do not disturb seals. Don’t make loud noises or throw objects in their vicinity.
  • Always keep dogs and small children under control and away from seals.
  • Never attempt to touch or handle a seal. They can be aggressive if threatened.
  • You can also catch diseases from seals through their skin, sneezes, coughs and barks, and you may also carry diseases that can transfer to them and make them ill.
  • Do not feed any seal.

Sea lions are generally quite confident around people. This is different from how fur seals behave around people. Sea lion responses to people vary; they may completely ignore you if they are resting, or during more active periods they may chase people and dogs that approach too closely.

All seals harbour a variety of parasites, bacteria, viruses and fungi. Some of these can be transferred to humans through the seal's skin, sneezes, coughs and barks and can be resistant to many commonly used drugs. Diseases caught from seals can cause lesions, conjunctivitis, painful swelling and even tuberculosis.

All seals should be treated with caution. They have large teeth, and can become aggressive. They also move surprisingly fast on land. Fur seals can bite with up to 2 tonnes per cm pressure.

Do not feed seals. Feeding them dead fish and high energy human food disrupts their natural diet. As well as this, bacteria on our skin is harmful to their digestive system.

Do not attempt to move, or assist adults or pups. Even if it is sick or injured it may be capable of inflicting serious injury. Seals also harbour infectious diseases that can be transmitted to humans, and are difficult to treat.

When to contact DOC

Call the DOC 24 hour emergency hotline 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468) if you find a seal that is:

  • severely injured
  • entangled in marine debris
  • being harassed by people or dogs

They have experienced staff who will respond if this is necessary. When taking your call they will need the following information:

  • Where is the seal and how can they get to it?
  • What species of seal is it? (or a description of what it looks like) What size is it?
  • What is seems to be wrong with it?
  • What is the state of the tide?
  • What are the local weather and sea conditions?

You may be asked to stay with the animal until help arrives, or to give a phone number so you can be contacted again if the animal cannot be found.

Seals sometimes turn up in unexpected places. They usually move on but in some cases they may need help. Call the DOC HOTline, they will know what to do. You cannot keep a kekeno. Possessing a seal without a permit is illegal.

When not to contact DOC

The following is normal behaviour for kekeno:

  • regurgitating, sneezing or coughing
  • "crying" - these are natural moisture secretions
  • a young seal spending time away from its mother
  • drifting in the waves
  • flapping its flippers in the air as if stranded
  • immobile
  • fighting

Seal deal: caring for kekeno together brochure

Understanding is the key to caring for and living side by side with kekeno, the New Zealand fur seal. Learn about the history, biology and behaviour of our most common native pinniped and follow the Kekeno Care Code for your own safety and to help the kekeno thrive.

The seal deal: caring for kekeno together (PDF, 520K)


In from the cold – winter (PDF, 311K)
Taking the plunge – spring (PDF, 270K)
On the beach – summer (PDF, 305K)

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DOC 24 hour emergency hotline:
0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468)

Phone to report:

Seals severely injured, entangled, or being harassed by people or dogs
Whale or dolphin strandings
Sick or injured wildlife

For other enquiries, contact your nearest DOC office