The New Zealand fur seal - kekeno in Maori – is the most common seal in New Zealand.
Other species of seals seen in New Zealand are: the NZ sea lion (rapoka/whakahao), the leopard seal and the southern elephant seal.
NZ fur seals belong to the family of pinnipeds. There is 3 families of pinnipeds: true seals (leopard seals, elephant seals), eared seals (fur seals, sea lions) and walruses.
How can we make the difference between a NZ fur seal and a NZ sea lion?
Both species belong to the eared seals family. Eared seals feature external ears, hind flippers which can rotate forward allowing them to move fast on the land and no fur on the underside of their flippers. NZ fur seals can be differentiated from the NZ sea lions by:
- Their size: NZ fur seals are smaller
- Their pointy nose
- NZ fur seals prefer rocky shoreline while NZ sea lions are found mostly on sandy beaches.
NZ fur seals have ears, a pointy nose, hind flippers and prefer a rocky shoreline
(Photo by Pohatu Penguins)
Where can we see NZ fur seals in New Zealand?
NZ fur seals are found on rocky shorelines on the mainland and off shore islands, such as the Chatham Islands and Sub-Antarctic islands. The breeding colonies range from the North Island (as far north as the Coromandel) to the South (as far south as the Sub-Antarctic Islands).
What do NZ fur seals eat?
Their diet includes mainly cephalopods such as squid and octopus, crustaceous such as krill, and small fish but also bigger prey such as barracuda, conger eels, jack mackerel and hoki.
NZ fur seal fishing an octopus (Photo By Leigh Torres)
What is the conservation status of the NZ fur seal?
Their threat status is now least concerned, with a population recovering. However NZ fur seals once were on the brink of extinction (in the 1800’s). When humans arrived in NZ the population was around 2 million but then seals were hunted by Maoris for food and by European for meat and pelts. Since 1978, the NZ fur seal is protected by the Marine Mammals Protection Act. We estimate their current population at around 200,000.
NZ fur seal, a population recovering (Photo by Pohatu Penguins)
What their main threat today?
Despite the Act, human activities are still the main threat to NZ fur seals.
- Fishing industry: Seals are accidentally caught, drown during trawling and long line fishing operations.
- Gas and oil exploration
- Tourism: disturbance or even illegal attacks
- Introduced predators such as dogs
- Pollution: marine debris such as plastic and old nets, oil spills…
- Natural predation : sharks, killer whales (orca), leopard seals and occasionally sea lions
A fur seal caught in a fishing net (Photo by Peter Mc Intosh)
Fur seals are one among many victims of tragic oil spills (Photo by Greenpeace)
What is the size of a NZ fur seal?
Males weigh between 90-150kg and they can measure up to 2.5 meters.
Females are smaller and usually weigh between 30-50-kg and can be 1.5 meters long.
A male and his harem (Photo by Pohatu Penguins)
Facts about NZ fur seals:
Diving: NZ fur seals dive longer and further than any other seal. They dive up to 238m (occasionally deeper) for up to 11 minutes.
Reproduction: Females have their first pup between 4 and 6 years of age. Every year they give birth to a single pup.
Males are sexually mature at 5 to 6 years old but not socially mature (able to have a territory and sire pups) for another 3 years.
NZ fur seals breed between mid-November and mid-January.
NZ fur seals use a method called delayed implantation to make sure they have their pup during the warm months of summer. The egg is fertilised but only implants in the uterus 3 months later. Gestation is 9 months even though they mated 12 months prior the birth of the pup!
Pups can suckle their mother’s milk for up to 2 years but will start eating solid food before weaning. Once weaned the juveniles need to forage for food by themselves.
The life span of a NZ fur seals is 16 years.
NZ fur seal pups (Photo by Pohatu Penguins)
Can I approach or touch NZ fur seals?
When watching seals, you should always respect these rules :
Yawning or not so happy seal telling you to back off? (D.O.C copyright)
What if I’m concerned about a seal’s well-being?
Here is a list of natural behaviours that do not need human intervention. You may see seals:
- looking distressed and scrawny
- sneezing, coughing and with weepy eyes
- drifting in the waves
- flapping flippers as if stranded
- pups spending time away from their mothers
There are exceptions to our ‘hands off' approach. DOC will intervene if a seal is:
- in notably poor condition
- in immediate danger
- tangled in debris
- causing disruption, like in the middle of a road
- being harassed
If you're concerned then ask yourself: is the seal in danger, injured or being harassed by people or dogs? If so, call our emergency hotline (0800 362 468)
You need to tell us
- The location of the seal and how to get to it
- The seal species or a description of what it looks like
- What is wrong with the seal
- The state of the tide
- The local weather and sea conditions
- Your contact phone number
NZ fur seal happily swimming (Photo by Pohatu Penguins)