We spent two days exploring the Otago Peninsula, outside the city of Dunedin on New Zealand's South Island. On the second day there we visited a small cove called Pilot's Beach, a small crescent of sand bordered by a jumble of rocks on each side. The cove is situated on the sheltered side of Taiaroa Head, the wildlife reserve at the tip of the peninsula.
We saw Blue Penguin burrows near the beach, but not the penguins themselves since we were there during the bright midday hours. The penguins only come ashore at dusk to spend the night in their nests, returning to the sea again at first light.
We did get to see several good-sized male New Zealand Fur Seals (Arctocephalus forsteri). While we had seen some female fur seals sunning themselves at Kaikoura the week before, this was the first time we had seen the larger males of the species.
Several of these guys were swimming rather close to shore. We sat on the rocks beside the beach for quite awhile so we could watch them. We were surprised to see them lazily swimming on their backs at times, sort of lolling about, paddling just a bit with their front flippers, while their back flippers poked up above the water's surface. Unfortunately they did this too far offshore to photograph clearly, since I didn't have a telephoto lens.
Then one seal seemed to notice us, and swam toward the rocks where we sat, as if he had decided to have a look at us.
He made one pass, and then swam seaward for a bit before circling back to inspect us again. We didn't move (except to raise the camera). This time the seal came even closer, paused right in front of us, and raised his head out of the water for a better look at the strange jeans-clad mammals sitting on the rocks.
He stayed there for a few minutes, just staring at us. We stared back! He came in just a bit closer, and we began to wonder if he was going to haul out right onto the rocks where we were sitting.
But no -- in the end, he just rolled over onto his back and swam away from shore. We were sorry to see him go back out to sea, but we were grateful to have had such a great close encounter with this very photogenic marine mammal.
Not too far away, there is a fur seal breeding colony populated by females and a few dominant males. Those older males are very territorial and do not appreciate interlopers. They will challenge and fight younger males who intrude at the colony.
We were told that the fur seals we saw in the Pilot's Beach area are mostly younger males who come to the area to rest in the sheltered cove, away from the threat of the older males.