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NZ's kekeno population is on the rise, and DOC is asking the public for sightings. File Photo: Supplied

Seal sightings sought

The Department of Conservation is asking members of the public to continue to report any sightings of kekeno (NZ fur seals) around the upper North Island this summer.
The citizen science project is a response to higher than usual numbers of dead kekeno sightings during the winter of 2021.
DOC conducted an initial survey between July and November of 2022. They received 102 sightings during this time – 81 live animals and 21 deceased.
The continuation of the project will provide valuable data to DOC about the seals’ distribution and favoured hangout spots, and will allow workers to identify potential release sites for rehabbed seals.
Marine Science Advisor Laura Boren says the extension of the project into summer will also provide information on kekeno during their breeding season.
“In summer, more people are out enjoying the coasts of New Zealand and the ocean around us, so that’s more eyes helping us identify seals and provide us with sightings.”
Of the 102 reported sightings, 65 contained clear images, meaning teams were able to make an accurate assessment of the animal’s age class. Photos of dead seals are also helpful, says Boren, because staff can assess whether the specimen meets the criteria for necropsy. Freshness is a key factor – the fresher the photos, the easier it is to determine the cause of death.
“From those necropsies, we’ll be able to gather important information on the species, why some of the individuals have died, and what we can do going forward. For this reason, it’s important to report as quickly as possible.”
Anyone who wishes to report a sighting can email with the date, location and whether the creature is tagged along with any photos. If possible, images should be of the whole animal from several different angles. Deceased seals should also be photographed from above and with something beside it for scale.
People are reminded to stay at least 20 metres away from live kekeno, keep small children and dogs at a safe distance, and never get between the animal and the sea.