Ask a Scientist: How to behave around Leopard Seals


Leopard seals are like no other. While they are semi-aquatic marine mammals, they also show almost snake-like features which makes them so unreal. Leopard seals prey on other seal species and only have the killer whale to fear…they're truly badass.

Usually resident to the Antarctic peninsula, these guys can be found in New Zealand from time to time. They are using local beaches or marinas as resting spots and now, therefore, come more frequently into contact with people. While this is an exciting opportunity for you to engage in seal watching, it is essential to know about some rules involved with this activity. Leopard seals are protected under Marine Mammal Protection Regulations enforced by the Department of Conservation Te Papa Atawhai and therefore must not be disturbed (otherwise you could face a severe fine or some jail time!).

It is vital to be reminded that these fellas are predators who come to shore to take a rest from exhausting themselves while foraging at sea. This means they are NOT lazy but need adequate resting periods for survival (just like you!).

If you come across a Leopard Seal, it is important that you report this to the Department of Conservation or the NZ Leopard Seals Team (0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468) or on 0800 LEOPARD (0800 536 7273)).

Please provide information as followed:

-the date, time and location (GPS coordinates if possible - your phone can store these when you take a photo if you have the location setting enabled)

-the number of seals and estimated sizes

-take photographs or videos if possible (for this, try to stay as far away as possible)