24 Aug 2014

Call for volunteers to mind seal pups

6:22 am on 24 August 2014

The Department of Conservation is calling for volunteers to help mind seal pups who each year turn a freshwater pool near Kaikoura into their home.

Watch seal pups playing at Ohau Stream near Kaikoura

Ohau Stream is located about 27 kilometres north of Kaikoura on SH1 and winds its way down from a snow-fed alpine waterfall, through bush, to the coastline.

The seal season runs from May to October and during this time thousands of seals line Kaikoura's coast to rest and give birth.

A Department of Conservation ranger based in Kaikoura, Brett Cowan, said each year the next generation of baby seals discovered the waterfall.

"The baby seals discover the waterfall by accident, through pure exploration as they are waiting for their mother to come back from fishing. Sometimes she is gone for between three and five days, up to 400 kilometres offshore."

Up to 100 baby seals can usually be found at the waterfall but Mr Cowan said this year there have been slightly fewer.

He said the seal pups use the waterfall to play and develop their strength, with their playful nature drawing thousands of spectators.

He said up to 11,000 people would visit the waterfall between May and October.

A team of local volunteers give up their time to answer questions, protect the seals and make sure visitors do not take things too far with the animals.

There are 12 volunteers who work from 10am to 2pm on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but Mr Cowan said there was always a need for more help.

"Unfortunately, we do get a small sector of society that will do extreme things to have their photograph taken with the seals, and sometimes we'll get a small percentage of people bordering on harassing seals just to get their photo opportunity."

He says the volunteer programme was of utmost importance, especially after violence towards seals in the past.

"There have been a number of seals killed by people targeting them with violence. Last year we had two shot and, 18 months before that, there were 25 that were bludgeoned."

Mr Cowan said anyone who wanted to volunteer would be put through an induction course with a range of scenarios including language barriers, reactions, and frequent questions and answers.

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