New Zealand Fur Seals

Here I am taking a group of guests in a Zodiac by a couple of New Zealand fur seals as they rest on shore.

Taking a group of guests in a Zodiac by a couple of New Zealand fur seals as they rest on shore.

For the last several weeks I have been cruising up and down the coasts of New Zealand’s North and South Islands.  Everywhere we drop our Zodiacs into the water, we encounter New Zealand fur seals resting on rocky shores.  Many of these marine mammals are brand new pups – maybe just a month or two old.  They play together all day in shallow rock pools waiting for their mothers to return with a bellyful of fish, and a meal of milk for her pup.

The huge eyes of a fur seal pup as it checks out the camera.

The huge eyes of a fur seal pup as it checks out the camera.

Most of the females will give birth to one pup during the New Zealand summer months of December and January.  Right now in mid-February we are lucky to be seeing lots of small, dark brown pups along the shores.  The large, dominant males have scattered already and we’ve seen them alone or in small groups from time to time.  Many of the shores are now the realm of the breeding females and their young ones.

One or two weeks after she gives birth, the mother fur seal starts going far out to sea to catch fish.  She can be gone anywhere from one to six days while her pups waits on shore for her return.  No wonder the pups we see are calling out for their mother, making all kinds of wonderful sounds, almost like the bleating of a lamb.  It’s fun to imitate them!

A fur seal pup waits for its mother to return from an offshore fishing trip.

A fur seal pup waits for its mother to return from an offshore fishing trip.

Many of the early western settlers to New Zealand were sealers who came here to take advantage of the untapped resource they found in the seals.  In the days before plastic, synthetic fibers and crude oil, seal skins were very valuable for warm clothing and fashion, and their oil was used to light lamps around the world.  Nowadays the sealing has stopped and the seals are protected, but they still get tangled in fishery trawl nets and absorb cancer-causing chemicals from fish in the sea.

The good news is that their numbers are bouncing back now that they are protected, and it’s not hard to find great haul-out spots along the New Zealand coast to watch these amazing animals.

Believe it or not, these seals can move pretty quickly on land.  It's a good idea to keep a healthy distance between you when you watch them.

Believe it or not, these seals can move pretty quickly on land. It’s a good idea to keep a healthy distance between you when you watch them.

7 thoughts on “New Zealand Fur Seals

  1. Colleen

    Kit,
    It’s been great reading about your adventures. What a great resourrce for students to have access to in the classroom. The picture of the pup checking out the camera is priceless! Can’t wait to see what you’ll be up to next. Happy Valentine’s Day.
    Colleen

    Reply
  2. Elizabeth

    Aunt Kit –
    I really miss you. And the baby seal was really cute. I learned baby seals are really, really cute. I learned baby seals live in the ocean and I know if you didn’t know this baby penguins get stuff from their mom and baby penguins are really cute.

    Love, elizabetbh

    Reply

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