A Threat Management Plan for the nationally critical New Zealand sea lion/rāpoka is being developed.

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New Zealand sea lion Threat Management Plan
New Zealand sea lion Threat Management Plan

Draft plan

The draft Threat Management Plan (TMP) is a culmination of a number of workstreams and several workshops to understand the common causes of pup mortality for sea lions at the Auckland Islands, and an overall risk assessment for the species.

The plan recognises that there is no single threat that is impacting the sea lion population, and recovery will require mitigation multiple threats at the range of breeding sites.

The plan proposes a work programme to be reviewed every five years on progress towards meeting the plan’s 20-year goal; that the population will be at or above its current population level and increasing.

The public consultation process ran for 8 weeks and closed on August 19, 2016.  DOC and MPI officials have considered all submissions and are currently liaising with key stakeholders over some of the management and research identified in some submissions. Officials anticipate that a decision on the full extent of the resulting Threat Management Plan will occur in early 2017.

In the interim, work on some key aspects of the Threat Management Plan, including the development of a sea lion forum and reviews of Operational Plans for some fisheries, will be underway shortly.  In addition, over the coming sea lion breeding season, DOC is coordinating field research that focuses on some of the key threats. This includes a risk factor study on pup mortality in the main breeding colonies on the Auckland Islands, and maintaining the “Planks for Pups” initiative that has been successful in saving nearly 25% of pups born on Enderby Island.  DOC is also improving community engagement material for Stewart Island and the Otago coast, and is liaising with volunteers

Find out about consultation on the plan.

Development of the plan

This section provides an overview of the work undertaken in the development of the Threat Management Plan.


In March 2014, the then Minister of Conservation, Nick Smith, and the Minister for Primary Industries, Nathan Guy, announced their intention to develop a TMP. See the March 2014 media release: Low count triggers new plan for endangered New Zealand sea lion.

Currently the largest breeding grounds of New Zealand sea lions are on the Auckland Islands where the majority of the pups are born each year. DOC has closely monitored this breeding population over the last 20 years or so and has seen this population decline substantially. The New Zealand sea lion has been listed as nationally critical, prompting the development of the TMP.

A Threat Management Plan (TMP) for New Zealand sea lions has now been developed by the Department of Conservation and Ministry for Primary Industrie, and reviews all natural and human-induced threats to sea lions and explores protection measures to ensure their survival.

The TMP will provide a 5 year programme aimed at reducing the decline, with a long-term goal of reversing the decline of sea lions so that they return to a thriving population.

New Zealand sea lion.
New Zealand sea lion and pup

New Zealand sea lion at Surat Bay. Photo: © Shellie Evans
New Zealand sea lion, Surat Bay, Catlins coast

Development process

The Department of Conservation and Ministry for Primary Industries developed a joint programme of work. The TMP timeline had three main work streams: risk assessment, monitoring and active management, and policy.

The risk assessment stream was made up of three phases:

  1. Finalising the recent sea lion demographic research project and gathering all available information on the sea lion population and on known impacts on the population.
  2. Conducting a quantitative risk assessment that addressed the threats to the New Zealand sea lion populations, where there was enough data to support this approach.
  3. Convened two expert panel workshops to conduct a qualitative risk assessment that evaluated the effect of all the threats and assisted with understanding the overall risk profile.

Development process for the Threat Management Plan (PDF, 70K)

A monitoring and active management approach

Alongside this rigorous risk assessment process, an monitoring and active management approach was taken. In practice this meant that DOC and MPI would take management actions and respond quickly to reduce mortality wherever possible. For example, the field team on the Auckland Islands actively rescued pups from terrain traps and holes to reduce pup mortality wherever possible.

Workshop on pup mortality at the Auckland Islands

Sea lion pups. Photo: © Sabine Bernert.
Sea lion pups

An urgent piece of work, requested by scientific experts, was completed to address high pup mortality at the Auckland Islands. An expert workshop was convened in early June 2014 specifically to look at these issues and assess what could be done in the following summer field season.

Results from the workshop indicated that a new and deadly strain of bacterial infection is killing a significant number of pups. Experts are assisting with simple and cost effective methods of isolating the cause of the disease and developing possible responses.

Discussion paper on New Zealand sea lion mortality: causes and mitigation (PDF, 585K)

Literature review of threats to the recovery of NZ sea lions and other otariid species

A literature review for global otariid species (fur seals and sea lions) was conducted, with the aim of identifying probable threats to the population recovery of New Zealand sea lions. It was not intended to be fully comprehensive, but to function as a background document for New Zealand sea lions, reviewing the threats to sea lions, and the inclusion of a comparison with similar international species.

Review of threats to the recovery of NZ sea lions and other otariid species (PDF, 1,162K)

Background Document for the New Zealand sea lion Threat Management Plan

The Background Document for the New Zealand sea lion Threat Management Plan provides more detailed information on the natural history and biology of the New Zealand sea lion/rāpoka. It also summarises the key threats the species is exposed to. It is intended to be supporting material to assist anyone wanting to make a submission on draft New Zealand sea lion Threat Management Plan.  

Background document - New Zealand sea lion Threat Management Plan (PDF, 3,480K)

Opportunities to engage

Engagement opportunities were provided to stakeholders throughout the development of the TMP, through already established groups and forums (such as the Aquatic Environment Working Group, Conservation Services Programme Technical Working Group, and Environmental Engagement Forum), and through agency websites.

Opportunities for feedback have included:

  1. Opportunities for scientific and technical experts from New Zealand and overseas to assist with developing how we assess the threats, and to ensure that research outputs are properly peer reviewed
  2. Meetings of the National Environmental Engagement Forum to discuss the goals and objectives of the TMP
  3. Input from iwi and communities that interact with sea lions on Stewart Island and mainland New Zealand

Visit the meetings and project updates page for summaries and reports from stakeholder meetings.

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