Report a Leopard Seal

Please report all leopard seal sightings (even if you think someone else already has).

Ways to report your sightings:

1.   Phone: Call our free-call hotline on 0800 LEOPARD (0800 5367273) (valid in New Zealand only)

2.   Facebook: Report to our Facebook page: “Leopard Seal sightings NZ

3.   Email: Email info@LeopardSeals.org

4. Website: Use our Online Sighting Form below

Data to collect with your sighting

  • Date
  • Location (GPS position if possible)
  • Photographs and videos:  Please see our  ‘Approaching‘ & ‘Photographing‘ Leopard Seals pages for details of the types of photographs we are requesting and how to submit the images.
  • Scat (poo): If you find leopard seal scat (the scientific name for seal poo) we would be most grateful if you could collect it.  Please check our page on how to collect scat and what we can find inside!


Add any extra details including behaviour of animal, direction they were travelling, length of animal, distinguishing features for species or individual identification (particularly useful if no photos were taken or photos aren’t great quality

Leopardseals.org takes no responsibility for the actions of members of the public approaching leopard seals. It is each person’s responsibility to ensure their own safety and the well-being of the seal.  As a minimum follow these guidelines on approaching leopard seals and ALWAYS adhere to the Marine Mammal Protections Act (MMPA).

‘Owha’ Image by: R. Bout

Mission Statement

It is our intent to move towards better protection for Leopard seals in New Zealand waters through Education, Conservation and Scientific Research.

We strive to engage stakeholders to participate in all these aspects.

‘recurring individual at Akaroa’ Image by: L. Richards

Our Logo

It was important to the LeopardSeals.org team that our logo design reflected the many facets of New Zealand leopard seals including their appearance, behaviour, cultural significance and importance to New Zealander’s.  We approached graphic artist Andrea Bosiger who kindly donated her time and skills to help us develop the logo you see here.

Leopard seals are remarkable in so many ways, but one feature that we continually notice, especially when the leopard seals are in the water, is their agility and flexibility.  Our circular logo, with the leopard seal curved in a supple arch, was one way to portray their unique appearance and movements.

Additionally, we wanted to recognise that New Zealand leopard seals are a native species and as such we wanted to have a unique logo which incorporated art in the form of traditional Māori spirals, known as koru’s. They represent the beginning of life and renewal.

This dual significance is relevant on a number of levels; we have collected data that indicates leopard seals have likely been in New Zealand longer than humans and; that cultural Māori links, through the recognition of the species as taonga (treasures), goes back hundreds of years.

Furthermore, as our research data set expanded we came to realise that there is a strong contemporary recognition of the species, through their occurrences in urban areas and the general public’s interest in the species. Our logo, by including our toll-free number and website, was a way to recognise the public’s desire for information on these animals as well as their wish to help protect leopard seals through citizen science.

Approaching Leopard Seals

Please remember that all seals in New Zealand are protected under the Marine Marine Mammal Act 1979 (MMPA).

It is an offence under the MMPA to disturb, harass, harm, injure or kill a seal.  A dog owner whose dog attacks a seal could face prosecution.

Anyone charged under the MMPA with harassing, disturbing, injuring or killing a seal faces a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment or a fine to a maximum of $250,000.

It is a privilege to see leopard seals around our coastline and we should ensure that they are welcome and treated with respect.  If you see someone harassing a seal (see details below), please inform them of the rules and the guidelines.  If you are still concerned about their behaviour, please call the 0800 LEOPARD (0800 536 7273).

Respectfully watching a leopard seal in a marina.

How to approach a leopard seal

If you approach a seal, please follow these simple guidelines which will enhance your safety and reduce disturbance to the seal;

  • Stay at least 20 m away
  • When approaching (and leaving), walk slowly & gently
  • Do not disturb the seal by making loud noises or throwing objects
  • Keep a clear path between the seal and the water
  • If you find a seal on a marina pontoon, contact your marina manager for protocols
  • Keep dogs on a lead and at least 20 m away
  • Monitor children closely and keep them at least 20 m away
  • Don’t feed the seal
  • Never attempt to touch the seal
  • When photographing the seal use the zoom on your camera  and don’t walk closer than 20 m (see our guidelines about photographing leopard seals).

Leopardseals.org takes no responsibility for the actions of members of the public approaching leopard seals. It is each person’s responsibility to ensure their own safety and the well-being of the seal. As a minimum follow these guidelines on approaching leopard seals and always adhere to the Marine Mammals Protection Act (MMPA).

Seals are wild animals and will rightly defend themselves if they feel threatened.  Although leopard seals are often seen just ‘lying around’ when on land or hauled out on a marina, and therefore may look ‘lazy’ or helpless, they can move surprisingly quickly and are remarkably agile.

While there are no records in New Zealand of leopard seals harming humans or animals, there have been a range of incidents around Antarctica involving humans (including bites and a fatality).

Leopard seal behaviour

If you approach a leopard seal, various indicators of seal behaviour may alert you to the internal state of the seal. The details provided here are guideline leopard seal behaviours only and you should always use common sense whilst following the approach guidelines above.

Please note that some leopard seals around New Zealand have become tolerant of humans – this does not mean that they are not disturbed – but rather that they have, sadly, been disturbed so often that they may not react externally to the harassment until it becomes extreme.  Internally, though they may exhibit a raised heart rate and elevated stress hormones. Therefore, always follow the approach guidelines above, even if you are sure the seal is not externally reacting to your presence.

Always remember – if you think the seal is being disturbed, it likely is, but a seal may not always show external agitation signs, so please respect it and give it some space.

Some guidelines around leopard seal behaviour include:

  • If a seal is lying on the beach and it lifts its head to look at you, it is aware you are there.  If it lowers its head and closes it eyes, it is typically not threatened by you.  A seal may keep its head lowered and open its eyes and watch you. Typically, it is not disturbed (but please see paragraph above about internal and external reactions).
  • If a seal lifts its head and keeps it raised for longer than a few moments, it has become concerned about your approach. It may repeatedly lift and lower its head which means it has become agitated by your presence.
  • If a seal that was previously resting, now moves its orientation away from you as you have approached, it has likely been disturbed.  Slowly step back a few meters and monitor the seal.  If it lowers its head and returns to rest mode, this  is the ‘comfort’ distance for this seal and you should approach no closer (and never closer than 20 m).
  • If a seal moves away because you approached it, you have harassed and disturbed it to the point where you have displaced it.  The seals movement may be punctuated by a ‘rest’, or may be a continual movement away from you.  Any deliberate movement away from you because you approached the seal would be classified as harassment and disturbance to the point where the seals behaviour was changed due to your behaviour.
  • When a seal opens its mouth directly at you, this is called ‘gaping’.  It may be accompanied by a head jerking movement.  Both of these are typical threat displays of many animals.  Gaping and head jerking are very clear warnings to you – the seal wants you to back off.  Even if you are at least 20 m, the seal is not comfortable with you being there, so please move further away.  A seal showing this behaviour would be  classified as harassed and disturbed.
  • If a leopard seal makes rumbling growls or hissing noises, it is highly agitated and would be classified as harassed and disturbed.  However, please note that leopard seals do often make noises when they are resting on land.  They may be described as ‘warbles’, ‘moans’ and ‘groans’.  These are normal sounds and are distinctly different from the agitated noises.
  • A seal may repeatedly yawn whilst you are watching it.  This behaviour must be taken in context.  Sometimes it is purely just yawning (typically seen when the seals head is lowered and its eyes are closed).  At other times it is a warning to you to back off (see ‘gaping’ above).  Generally, if the seals eyes are closed, it is yawning. However, if its eyes are open, then it is monitoring you and may be giving you a warning.  You should consider yawning as a precursor to other behaviours and monitor the seals overall behaviour.  If you are uncertain, take a few steps back.
  • If you are on a boat and see a leopard seal, you must still maintain a distance of at least 20 m.  Remember, never feed a seal and don’t deposit fish chum, parts or whole fish into the water near a seal.  Leopard seals can have an extremely low profile in the water and may not even raise their eyes out of the water.  Please exhibit extreme caution to ensure the seal is not hit by your boat.
  • If you are fishing (from a boat or from land) and a leopard seal is in the water nearby, please remove your gear from the water.  Leopard seals are curious and may approach live bait, baited hooks or lures and become entangled or get foul hooked (see an example below).

Zoomed-in photo showing leopard seal left flipper with foul-hooked fishing lure on flipper edge.

Photographing Leopard Seals

What type of photographs are helpful to researchers?

In order to catalogue individual animals we need to ensure we have as many angles as possible of each leopard seal which is photographed. The minimum requirements to identify an individual leopard seal is photographs of the left and right sides of the face and body, and also its underside of its belly.

The minimum 5 angles researchers need to add an individual leopard seal into a catalogue

How can I take great images?

We understand that people want to have photographs of leopard seals.  However, we can’t stress enough that no photograph is worth harassing or disturbing any animal for.

Therefore, we hope the simple guidelines below will mitigate any issues and help you to capture great images.  We also hope that they will not only provide you with photographs you can cherish, but if you submit your images to LeopardSeals.org, they will also help towards a better understanding and therefore protection of these amazing apex predators.  Please see the ‘Report a Leopard Seal’ page for details, including a release form.

A leopard seal lifts her head and stretches her fore-flipper, after sleeping for nearly 2 hours.

Guidelines for photographing leopard seals

Be patient. If you sit quietly and wait, a leopard seal will typically lift its head to survey its surroundings and at that point it may also yawn or roll around and stretch, showing its spectacularly large fore-flippers. The photographs collected by LeopardSeal.org Team Members are the result of, literally, 100’s of hours of watching leopard seals.

A leopard seal stretches its flippers whilst resting.

Use a zoom lens (or zoom on your phone).  Remember, you should not approach closer than 20 m. Using a ‘long lens’ with a good zoom will allow to get photographs that appear closer than you are. If you have the option to set your camera to ‘RAW’, these types of images are higher resolution and you can then crop in the image and then convert to .jpg for easy viewing and sharing.  Below are some examples of photographs taken with a 200 mm zoom lens, set on RAW and subsequently cropped and converted to jpg.  If using your phone, zoom in to the maximum amount.  Some phone cameras have a ‘steady shot’ or ‘action mode’ making your image more stable.

Leopardseals.org takes no responsibility for the actions of members of the public photographing leopard seals.  It is each persons responsibility to ensure their own safety and well-being of the seal.  As a minimum follow these guidelines on approaching leopard seals and ALWAYS adhere to the Marine Mammals Protection Act (MMPA).