Research New Zealand Leopard Seals

From Vagrant to Resident – Leopard Seals In New Zealand Waters

Although leopard seals have traditionally been considered a ‘vagrant’ (wandering or roaming from place to place, a nomadic) species and only occasional visitors to New Zealand waters, the research that has collated paints a very different picture.

In 2019 we published our first paper on leopard seals in New Zealand waters titled ‘From vagrant to resident: occurrence, residency and births of leopard seals (Hydrurga leptonyx) in New Zealand waters‘. This paper analysed sightings in the New Zealand Leopard Seal Database – an extensive collation of 2,711 records of leopard seals within New Zealand between 1200 and 2018. Leopard seal sightings have increased over time and been reported in all seasons and regions of New Zealand. Sightings have been predominantly of adult individuals of good or excellent body condition, which differs to previous hypotheses suggesting that leopard seals visiting New Zealand shores are primarily juvenile animals in poor health condition. A total of 176 unique individuals have been identified in the New Zealand Leopard Seal Catalogue between 2014 and 2018 and preliminary results indicated that numbers per annum have continued to increase over time. Three leopard seal births and a number of juvenile animals (34% of the NZ records) have been documented.

If you have seen a leopard seal (including historic records), we would be extremely interested in hearing from you so we can add this record to our New Zealand Leopard Seal Database.  Please check out our ‘Report a leopard seal sighting’ page.