Research on New Zealand Leopard Seals

From Vagrant to Resident 

Leopard seals were traditionally  considered a ‘Vagrant’ (wandering or roaming from place to place, a nomadic) species under the Department of Conservation Threat Classification System. They were known to visit New Zealand sporadically, only during certain seasons and the individuals who visited were known as primarily juvenile animals in poor health and body condition.

In 2020 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 leopard seal records within New Zealand between 1200 and 2018. Leopard seal sightings had increased over time and were reported in all seasons and regions of New Zealand. Sightings were predominantly of adult individuals in good or excellent body condition. From our research, the Department of Conservation re-classified leopard seals as a Resident species of New Zealand in 2020.