Male New Zealand sea lion
Image: Sabine Bernert | ©


The New Zealand sea lion has been protected in one form or another since 1893, when sealing was prohibited by New Zealand law.

Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978

Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978

4 Restrictions on holding or taking marine mammals
(1) Notwithstanding anything in any other enactment, but subject to this Act, no person shall-
(a) hold a marine mammal in captivity; or
(b) take any marine mammal, whether alive or dead, in or from its natural habitat or in or from any other place-

9 Offence to take marine mammal without permit
(1) Every person commits an offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years or to a fine not exceeding $250,000 who takes, has in possession, exports, imports, has on board any vessel, vehicle, aircraft, or hovercraft, or has control of any marine mammal, otherwise than under this Act or a permit.

take includes-
(a) to take, catch, kill, injure, attract, poison, tranquillise, herd, harass, disturb, or possess:
(b) to brand, tag, mark, or do any similar thing:
(c) to flense, render down, or separate any part from a carcass:
(d) to attempt to do any act specified in paragraph (a) or paragraph (b) or paragraph (c)

NZTCS: Nationally Vulnerable

The New Zealand Threat Classification System (NZTCS) assesses the conservation status of species according to the risk of extinction they face within New Zealand. 

Species are assessed by panels of experts drawing from the New Zealand scientific community. The assessments use two very basic measures:

  • population size (number of breeding adults or area of habitat occupied)
  • population trend (rate of decline or increase).

Sea lions are 'Nationally Vulnerable' under the New Zealand threat classification system due to an apparent stabalisation in population size at the core breeding site, and increases in other breeding locations. 

IUCN: Endangered 

The New Zealand sea lion is classified as 'Endangered' (EN) and projected in decline by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Pup production at their main breeding area (Auckland Islands) declined by 50% in the last 12 years.

The generation time is estimated to be 10.75 years with three generations being equivalent to approximately 32 years. Projecting the pup estimate from 1997/98 (3,021) at the Auckland Islands for three generations forward with a decline of 4% year, the number of pups born in 2029/30 is estimated to be 840, which is a 72% reduction meeting the category Endangered under criterion A4bd.

A population viability analysis has also been carried out on the largest population (in the Auckland Islands), which predicts a 98% probability of extinction of this population within five generations (calculation based on model used in Chilvers 2012).

Auckland Islands - Motu Maha Marine Sanctuary

In 1993, the marine environment around the Auckland Islands (12 nautical miles) was declared as a marine mammal sanctuary and ten years later, in 2003, the area was also designated a marine reserve. These protection measures removed the fishing activity from this area, which was identified as one of the main threats to the New Zealand sea lion colonies.

New Zealand sea lions are still impacted by the fishing activity around Auckland Islands as their foraging range includes areas beyond the marine reserve and overlaps fishing areas.

Map and boundaries of the sanctuary

Back to top