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Reporting Sick or Injured Seals in New Zealand

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Project Jonah and the Department of Conservation receive a huge number of calls each year from concerned members of the public, reporting that seals are either ill, injured or in serious trouble – but sometimes this isn’t the case. By understanding the unusual quirks and habits of seals, we’re much better placed to help these animals when they really are in need.

Find out how to identify ‘typical’ seal behaviour and when to call for help.

Sea to Sky

Seals regularly come ashore or ‘haul out’ at points around New Zealand. Here’s some information you should know…

Vomiting, sneezing or coughing?

This is normal behaviour. The seal’s probably getting rid of undigested food like squid beaks and fragments of fish bone.


Seals don’t have tear ducts. Those weepy eyes aren’t damp with tears, what you see is just normal moisture secretion.


Young seals will often spend days at a time alone, while their mothers forage at sea for food. Young seals will wait for their mothers to return so that they can then suckle and feed. It’s best not to move these animals as this will create confusion and stress for the mother and pup.

Dead at sea?

A sea-sleeping seal floats on its side.

Flappings its flippers in the air as if stranded?

Seals don’t beach like whales or dolphins. The seal is trying to cool off.

Lifeless on land?

Lying down and resting is a favourite past time of seals on land.


Territorial wrangles are common during the breeding season, when males challenge each other for superiority.

When to call DOC for help

If you have serious concerns about the welfare of a seal – if it’s severely injured, entangled in marine debris, or being harassed by people or dogs, then help is available. Call the Department of Conservation immediately on their emergency hotline.

0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468)



La Galigo

About Author

Project Jonah is a registered charity and a New Zealand organisation, with a distinct flavour and feel. We pride ourselves on being passionate, honest, open and down to earth – things that Kiwis are well known for, both here and overseas. We exist for one simple reason – marine mammals desperately need our help. We've pioneered whale rescue techniques, and have shared this technology and expertise with the rest of the world. Whilst the animals are central to what we do, it’s people that make our work possible. Our strength comes from our volunteers; everyday Kiwis that give up their time to help marine mammals through our rescue, action and protection programs. Whether they’re picking up litter on beaches or getting hands on in rescuing stranded whales, they’re out there helping. Whatever the weather. New Zealand can lead the world in marine mammal welfare and protection. Your help puts us closer to that goal.

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