• Outdoors Outdoors

'Seal silly season' is causing chaos for New Zealanders — here's why the disruption is actually good news

"It'll be interesting to see how that pans out."

Seal silly season, chaos for oceanside community

Photo Credit: iStock

They've gone wild. The seals have gone wild!

It seems New Zealand is on high alert for … wait for it … silly seals. They can be found sunbathing in the middle of roads, invading homes and patios, and, of course, relaxing on golf courses.

"It's the season for seals," New Zealand's Department of Conservation announced in a memo on its website, which advised Kiwis to keep an eye out for young seals and males of any age. 

From May to September, adult males and freshly weaned pups leave their colonies and explore the world, often putting them into contact with human settlements.

"People need to be prepared to encounter seals anywhere around our coastline, even in areas where they haven't seen seals before, and particularly over the winter months," Marine Science Advisor Laura Boren said in the release.

"I call it seal silly season," ecologist Louise Chilvers told the Guardian. "It's like having a teenager being kicked out of the home — they don't quite know what to do, don't quite know where to feed, don't quite know what to do with themselves. They've got all this freedom, so they go do a bit of exploring."

This isn't the first time the seals have gone wild. Last year, one broke into a home and rested on the couch before being escorted back to sea. The country's state highways are regularly "sealed off," too, as these massive mammals sometimes relax there en masse.

Believe it or not, this is actually great news because it signals the recovery of the New Zealand fur seal, according to Boren, who told the Guardian that the population was "decimated" by sealing ships between the 1790s and 1940s. Now, they're starting to recover much of their historic range.

Seal hunting was outlawed in New Zealand in 1894, with the exception of a few open seasons. Today, New Zealand's fur seal population numbers around 200,000. But a burgeoning seal community brings with it greater odds of human-wildlife conflict.

"As tensions rise in the future with more and more human-seal contact, it'll be interesting to see how that pans out," Adrian Paterson, associate professor at Lincoln University, told the Guardian last year.

For now, the Department of Conservation wants people to give seals a wide berth, including leaving pups alone unless they are in immediate danger. It also advises people to keep their dogs on leashes.

Comments on the Guardian article ranged from humorous to a tad melancholy.

"This gets my silly seal of approval!" one person said.

However, another pointed out that "the land they used to explore safely has been occupied by an invasive (human) predator."

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