Incredible footage shows man interacting with sea lions in the water

 A South Island man has captured his incredible encounter with a group of sea lions on camera. 

Brandon Richmond says he was spearfishing in the Catlin's last Friday when he saw a group of sea lions in the water.

Mr Richmond grabbed his phone to record the moment, which he says was a "pretty captivating experience".

"People see them on the beach and might be a bit scared - I wasn't scared of them. I guess they can be dangerous, a bit unpredictable, but you've just got to show them some respect, like any wild animal."

Mr Richmond says he has seen sea lions a number of times when spearfishing but has never caught his interactions on camera before. 

He says he "could have spent hours out there with these beautiful creatures, feeling blessed".

Department of Conservation (DOC) science advisor Laura Boren says, "If you are in New Zealand and spot a sea lion, you're seeing one of the rarest sea lions in the world."

Ms Boren says the water is a sea lion's natural element and they are "confident, curious, strong and agile in it".

"Sea lions are very curious and are known to approach divers. Therefore the department recommends that people who are swimming and encounter sea lions to keep their hands to themselves and to swim slowly away. 

"Their curious and cheeky behaviour means the sea lions could get more boisterous and pose a danger to the swimmer if the swimmer engages with them."

Ms Boren says DOC does not encourage people to swim with sea lions, but acknowledged they might approach you. 

"They're nationally critical and protected. It's an offence under the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978 to disturb, harass, harm, injure or kill a New Zealand sea lion.

"We issue permits for tourism operators to allow people to swim with seals, but not for sea lions because their numbers around the mainland are smaller and we want to limit the human impacts on this taonga species."

A DOC spokeswoman said, "Based on the footage alone, the man doesn't appear to be harassing the sea lions in any way and it appears that they are voluntarily approaching him. However, for the sea lion's welfare and your own safety, DOC's advice is that people slowly swim away when approached like this."