Seals in the water and out

 Common Australian seals

  • Australian Sea Lion Neophoca cinerea
  • New Zealand Fur Seal Artocephalus forsteri
  • Australian Fur Seal Artocephalus pusillus doriferus
  • Antarctic Fur Seal Artocephalus gazella
  • Sub – antarctic Fur Seal Artocephalus tropicalis
  • Southern Elephant Seal Mirounga leonina
  • Leopard Seal Hydruga leptonyx
  • Crab – eater Seal Lobodon carcinophagus
  • Weddell Seal Leptonychotes weddellii
  • Ross Seal Ommatophoca rossii


These sea faring mammals, are common in many parts of the world. They have insulated fat that keeps them warm. They can dive quite deep in the bays or around deep under water shelf systems. Found in Antarctica, often so called vagrant species e.g. Southern Elephant Seals or Leopard seals may venture into parts of south eastern Australia. There are several large colonies of Australian and New Zealand Fur seals around Australia.

Seals and People
It may surprise you but seals can be along the Australian coastline. However more usually seen in the southern half of the continent. Obviously where there are large seal colonies, Kangaroo Island, Phillip Island etc, those regions have numerous reports along beaches and jetty’s. Seals often come ashore at certain times of the year. The reasons may vary, visitor seals from Antarctic or remote populations, come ashore to rest and regain strength.  Some fur seal pups fresh off their mothers milk, emerge when in poor condition or just to bask and rest.

There are usually areas where seals frequently emerge and are well known to government and wildlife groups. Seals are often monitored and where applicable a rescue or assessment is made to decide on best course. Trained seal staff will endeavour to keep seals safe and rehabilitation or even euthanasia may occur in some cases. (See Australian Wildlife Secrets Vol 1 no 3).

Seals in Trouble

Australian Fur Seal pup yearling in very poor condition photo by Kirsa Veal

Seals may have plump bodies, should have no wounds, be free of any entangled lines or netting.
Normally healthy seals should not show a pronounced backbone or ribcage. If they do this would indicate a poor health.

Seals have weeping eyes ( a condition that helps keep the eyes free from excess salt), appear lifeless (often basking) and will often be approachable.

Seals on dog lead free beaches should be reported to your local wildlife rescue group, state body for wildlife or local council.

Dogs should never be allowed near seals, people should observe respective state legislation on seals. Typically you are not allowed within 10 metres of a seal often further.

Seals must never be  handled by members of the public, some species e.g. Leopard Seals have very large and capable bites that will require medical treatment.

Seals in Water
Commonly seals exhibit a position called “sailing”. This will appear pronounced with one fin in the air and the body submerged. People in boats may see this as a distress signal vaguely similar to a person with a hand out of water. However this is a form of thermo regulation in seals. The fin is used to heat the seal whilst in the water. (See Australian Wildlife Secrets vol 1 no 6).

Seals may also frolic in the water edge; this is a form of play rolling in the water, yet to the casual eye it looks like a dying seal. Similarly seals can come ashore or be in close proximity to rocks at the edge rolling in the wake.

Seals are often seen around piers and boat ramps where concerned fisherman often feed them scraps or the seals forage for fish discarded after days catch. Feeding seals is not helpful as they learn to survive in close proximity to [eo[le and may not adapt to life learning to fish properly. Also placing them at risk of being entangled with fishing line often a problem around wharves and piers.

Seals in the water should never, be captured or brought ashore, this may place people and seals at risk.