When I find myself looking down on the beach where the juvenile and baby kekeno hang out and play, it is hard to tear myself away.
The mischievous play is rehearsal for a seal’s adult life but the seal pups are having fun as they learn and it is a joy to watch them swirling in the water and play fighting on land.
The young seals are always under the watchful eye of an adult or two lounging on the rocks nearby but were it not for the movement of the young seals, one could easily miss seeing the larger seals because they lie so still and their coats match the colour of the rocks so perfectly. Even the darker coloured baby seals that wander up near the footpaths look like rocks and I found myself almost stepping on one. The sound of my approaching feet woke the pup with a start and it quickly hauled itself closer to the rest of the colony below.
New Zealand fur seals (kekeno is the Maori word; the scientific name is Arctocephalus forsteri) breed mainly in Australia, on the coasts of New Zealand’s South Island, and in New Zealand’s subantarctic islands. Despite being hunted to less than 10% of their original population size by early Pacific Islanders, colonists, and whalers, New Zealand fur seals have made a comeback and their numbers are increasing. They are fully protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
A caveat for seal watching: Even a sleeping seal can wake up and move surprisingly fast so use a long lens to photograph them. If you get too close, they will bite and it will make a nasty wound.