Department of Conservation staff made several trips to Bluff this week in response to a New Zealand sea lion coming ashore along Marine Parade.
DOC Biodiversity Assets Ranger for Murihiku Area Sue Lake said, “New Zealand sea lions are endangered and their numbers are declining so we’re extremely fortunate to see one of the rarest seals in the world. This one is a large sub-adult male resting between his feeding trips at sea.”
Sea lions are generally quite confident around people but their responses vary. If they are approached too closely sea lions may become defensive or try to chase people and dogs away. Sea lions can give a nasty bite so the best way for people to get along with them is to give them space and keep a safe distance.
DOC advises people to enjoy a sea lion encounter without compromising their safety or that of the animal by staying at least ten metres or a couple of car-lengths away. Anyone driving along the Marine Parade in Bluff needs to be particularly careful in case the sea lion is on or close to the road.
DOC investigated the option of relocating the sea lion but decided this would present additional risks without providing a long-term or permanent solution.
“Moving an animal this size could prove quite dangerous, there would be a risk of injuring either the sea lion or the people doing the work. Even if we did move it previous experience has shown it would be very likely to return to the same area. Sea lions are used to swimming huge distances - they swim between the mainland and the sub-Antarctic islands - so relocation is unlikely to work," said Ms Lake.
Bluff resident Gloria Henderson said she is enjoying visits from her ocean neighbour. “He’s creating a real interest in Bluff and lots of people are coming down to look at him,” said Ms Henderson.
Ms Henderson recalls 22 years ago her father rescued a sea lion pup. “This sea lion comes straight up to where the old paua house was. I wonder if it’s the same animal coming back to where it remembers being looked after by my dad,” said Ms Henderson.
There are also unconfirmed reports of a female sea lion coming ashore in the same area, but it’s unlikely sea lion pups will be born in Bluff. Instead these sub-adult sea lions may return to colonies in the sub-Antarctic region where they will breed at full maturity. Until then, Bluff residents and visitors can enjoy being visited by their very special neighbours.
New Zealand sea lions are fully protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. There are an estimated 12,000 New Zealand sea lions but the numbers are declining. Breeding is mostly restricted to New Zealand sub-Antarctic although a slow return to mainland New Zealand is now occurring. Threats to the sea lion population include drowning in trawl fisheries, disease and human disturbance. Sea lions eat a wide variety of prey species, few of which are important for commercial or recreational fishing. Sea lions can travel up to 175 kilometres from the coast to feed and dive up to 600 meters in depth. Females give birth to a single pup every one or two years in December or January.