Leopard seal on Gisborne beach prompts warning

People have been warned that the leopard seal on Wainui beach could be aggressive and has a nasty bite. - Photo: Photo / RNZ

People have been warned not to startle a leopard seal lying on the southern end of Gisborne's Wainui beach.

The Department of Conservation advised people to stay at least 20m away and to keep their dogs under control.

Leopard seals can sometimes make an appearance on Gisborne beaches at this time of year, said DOC East Coast Biodiversity Ranger, Jamie Quirk.

The mammals are a protected species, normally found along the edge of the Antarctic pack ice. An increasing number are visiting New Zealand shores, including one found recently at Mahia and two who have spent time in Auckland waters.

"Having one of Antarctica's carnivores on our doorstep happens very occasionally. It's a long journey, and while they're here they deserve to be given space and time to rest," Mr Quirk said.

The protected species have a strong bite and can be more aggressive than fur seals, he said.

"Although they can look lethargic when they're lying on the beach, they can move very quickly. They're large natural predators, and the largest of the species can grow up to 500kg."

DOC has warned, if people find themselves closer than expected, they should keep calm and quietly move out of its space.

Gisborne District Council animal control have been notified of the seal for dog control purposes.

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