Fur seals fight over sleeping spot

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Two kekeno/fur seals snapped by an Ashburton photographer may have been fighting over their sleeping spot.

Jo Naylor was staying at the camping ground north of the Rangitata River mouth late last month when she took the photo of two seals facing each other set against a picturesque sunrise.

Department of Conservation marine science advisor Jody Weir said it appeared to be two males in confrontation.

“Often posturing like this is enough to convince one to back down, but sometimes it can escalate to showing teeth and then biting,” Weir said.

“As we’re not in the mating period, these males may be having a dispute for another reason, like a preferred spot on the beach to take a nap.”

Naylor said she did not notice any teeth baring or biting, and the seals appeared to be playing, similar to how puppies play together.

She said it had been a “nice surprise” to see the pair and four others on the beach. She was there about 7.30am on April 27, and ended up sitting for a couple of hours just to watch the group.

They would sunbathe and then go in the water to swim. One of them was “very close to shore, and was surfing on the waves”. It had been a highlight to see so many, as when visiting in the past she had usually just seen one. “It was very cool to watch.” She was using a zoom lens and was about 20m away. Weir said this time of year there was generally an increase in fur seal sightings near the Rangitata River mouth.

“These behaviours are special to witness and not uncommon at this time of year,” Weir said.

“Fish often congregate at river mouths, so it’s a good place to get food outside of the breeding period,” Weir said.

From May to September young seals and male seals of any age are along New Zealand's coastlines as they leave their breeding colonies, explore and rest.

Weir advised anyone watching seals to stay at least 20m away. It was important not to disturb them, particularly while sleeping, as frequently being woken up could stress them and make them more susceptible to disease.