Dozens of playful seal pups have taken to splashing about in a waterfall pool north of Kaikoura, delighting hundreds of people with their boisterous antics.
But as visitor numbers have grown at the Marlborough site, the Department of Conservation (DOC) is considering measures to keep the crowds at bay.
The pups from the Ohau Point fur seal colony, about 22km north of Kaikoura, frolic up the nearby Ohau stream to play at the base of a 30-metre waterfall and bask in the sun.
DOC South Marlborough biodiversity manager Phil Bradfield said the number of pups born at the colony had nearly tripled in recent years, from 600 in 2005 to 1500 last year.
“There are often probably in the region of 100 to 200 up the stream and in the pool.”
The pups stayed close to where they were born for the first few months of their life, but began to wander further afield as they grew older.
Many had taken to heading up the stream while their mothers were out at sea for up to two days at a time, feeding to produce a very rich milk for the pups.
The pups were learning to interact socially and developing their coordination as they splashed about in the stream and the pool, Mr Bradfield said.
“Like all young animals, they’re full of the joys of life,” he said.
“They’re exploring and playing with their peers and generally learning about the world around them.”
The playful seals were attracting an increasing number of visitors as word of mouth spread, with about 5000 people making the three-minute walk from State Highway 1 to the waterfall every month.
DOC was monitoring the situation as the site’s popularity increased.
“We’re discussing whether we need to put a low-key barrier there maybe…but we’re a wee way from that yet.”
Mr Bradfield warned visitors that the pups had sharp teeth and were protected under the Marine Mammals Act.
“Sure, they look very cute, but we would urge people not to get to close to them.”
There had been no incidents to date.
“The majority of people who go there are really appreciating the experience, they’re very respectful of the seals and as a result they’re having a fantastic experience,” he said.
“As long as people respect them and don’t get too close, the interaction is a fantastic one to experience.”